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Cardinals quarterback David Blough has night to remember

Howard Balzer Avatar
August 12, 2023

The reality of the NFL is that a majority of games are decided by one score and even more are within eight points in the fourth quarter.

To listen to the narrative of the Cardinals, it’s as if those with collective amnesia believe there was rarely good football played in the previous four seasons.

However, as Mark McGwire once famously said, “We’re not here to talk about the past.” Still, as the team revels in Friday night’s 18-17 victory over the Denver Broncos, the reality is that it’s one preseason game following only 12 practices (many at reduced tempo) that began a mere 17 days ago.

Coach Jonathan Gannon had a healthy perspective when he said afterward, “Like I told the team: The most important thing — the good, the bad and the ugly — we’ve got to learn from it. We’ve got to clean up some mistakes in all three phases, and we’ve got to get a little bit better from this tape. With saying that, I liked how they competed. I thought they ran well and hit well, and we had some things that we executed down the stretch there that are really the difference between winning and losing games.”

Another reality is that with 4:38 remaining and the score tied at 10, it had been an uneven game with both teams combining for only 481 yards and everyone witnessing the usual parade of players that won’t be on the roster when the season opens on Sept. 10 in Washington.

In 17 days, rosters throughout the league will be slashed from 90 to 53 players (the Cardinals have 91 because of the international exemption for tight end Bernhard Seikovits) with another 16 added to the practice squad.

Still, what will be remembered is a final duel that featured 140 yards (22.5 percent of the 621 total) in two possessions; the Cardinals victory aided by the decision to allow the Broncos to score the go-ahead touchdown with 1:30 remaining in the game; as well as Gannon’s choice along with offensive coordinator Drew Petzing to go for two with two seconds on the clock, something they likely won’t do in the regular season. Especially with a running play by rookie free agent Emari Demercado.

“We handled the two minutes,” Gannon said. “We had a couple timeouts there and we decided to use both of them at that point. Honestly, it’s so funny (because) we had a similar drive in OTAs where we caught an explosive and it’s like, all right if we get it here, we’re going to bang a timeout knowing that we got one left. Sure enough, I don’t know who it was (wide receiver Daniels Arias for 25 yards), but (Arias) caught the explosive in there, so we banged the timeout.

“Then we banged another timeout when he (Demercado) was in bounds and had a couple shots in the end zone and they executed. It can go one way or the other. Guys made some plays. Sometimes you do, sometimes you don’t, but I was proud of how they fought, how they battled and their attitude.”

Dueling quarterbacks

Colt McCoy and Clayton Tune had already played for the Cardinals when David Blough entered the game with 9:13 remaining in the fourth quarter. Blough was likely in the game because Jeff Driskel was sidelined by a strained calf. Meanwhile, Denver’s Ben DiNucci followed Russell Wilson and Jarrett Stidham on the previous possession with 12:25 on the clock.

Both had a shaky first possession.

The Broncos gained 20 yards on six plays with DiNucci, who most recently played for the Seattle Sea Dragons in the XFL and was the league’s top passer. He completed 2 of 3 passes for 12 yards.

Blough was 2 for 4 for 11 yards and was sacked twice in a possession that gained 11 yards on nine plays.

That’s when the Broncos took over on their own 13-yard line and DiNucci went to work. Ten plays and six first downs later, Denver had the lead. DiNucci completed 5 of 6 passes for 45 yards, and the drive was helped by a 22-yard pass interference penalty on cornerback Antonio Hamilton Sr. that moved the ball to the 4-yard line with 1:34 remaining.

The Cardinals had two timeouts in their pocket and Gannon knew the Broncos could bleed a lot the clock, kick a go-ahead field goal that would leave the Cardinals with no timeouts.

So it was that the defensive line parted like the Red Sea and running back Jaleel McLaughlin went up the middle untouched for a touchdown.

Did the first-year coach school Sean Payton? Preseason game or not, the wiser move would have been to instruct his players not to score a touchdown.

Taking over on the 25-yard line, Blough went to work. He passed on all 10 plays in the drive, competing six for 75 yards and four first downs. There was a 13-yarder to rookie tight end Blake Whiteheart on third-and-3 on the first set of downs, the explosive to Arias that was the Cardinals’ longest play in the game, and an 18-yard touchdown to Brian Cobbs.

Then came the winning points after 15 consecutive called pass plays in which Demercado powered his way into the end zone with a little help from his friends.

“That’s a run play that doesn’t always score on a two-point play,” Blough said. “For Emari to get in and for us to win it, that’s a good feeling. “I think he was met pretty close to the 1-yard line. We’ve been working that, our guys getting behind our offensive linemen, (tackle) Jackson (Barton) and those guys getting behind; (center) Pat (Elflein), and pushing that pile. So, it’s really fun when that happens.

“That’s what we want our identity to be. If we need two yards, we can get two yards. For a two-point play to go in like that, and our guys falling into the end zone. It felt like we moved the line of scrimmage. That’s what we’re trying to establish here, and that’s what they’ve been preaching. It’s a fun feeling watching that wall just surge forward.”

Said Demercado, “Just a matter of keeping my legs driving. No contact on the play, but that doesn’t mean that the play is over, so you have to keep trying until the play is over.”

Asked his first thought when the run play was called, Blough said, “We had conversation, via communication with hand signals, and Coach Petzing said ‘This is who we are. This is our identity as a football team. This is what we want to be about.’ He knows the conversion rates on plays like that and has studied two-point plays over the last few years.

“So, we were confident. (The) opportunity you have as a quarterback and be able to walk in that huddle and say (voice rises to high pitch), ‘Let’s get in the end zone. Let’s go win this thing.’ And for those guys to execute it and do it … pretty cool.”

But it wouldn’t have been possible without allowing the Broncos to score.

Said Blough, “Coach Gannon said last night in the team meeting ‘We’ve trained situational football in our meetings, in our practices, in the jog throughs.’ You train situational football. So when the situation that came up; you let them score. That’s the best for the team at the end of the game. That’s the only way you get a chance to go down and score. Guys made great plays, and that’s how we got in. It’s special.”

It’s Blough as in wow!

To say the least, this isn’t Blough’s first rodeo. After a college career at Purdue, he went undrafted in 2019 and signed with the Browns, was traded to the Lions where he played seven games, starting five in three seasons. Cut by Detroit last year, but offered a spot on the practice squad, he wanted a new start and signed to the Vikings’ practice squad until the Cardinals signed him on Dec. 14 after Kyler Murray tore his ACL.

Eighteen days later and after one practice when McCoy wasn’t cleared to play for a New Year’s Day game against Atlanta, Blough started and nearly led the team to victory, completing 24 of 40 passes for 221 yards and a touchdown.

However, for his career, he’s played nine games, starting seven (all losses, including two with the Cardinals). It’s no surprise he cherishes every opportunity, especially considering the new staff brought him back after not extending a tender as a restricted free agent.

He said, “In this league, it’s so hard to win. At least in my experience of four, going on five years. I haven’t gotten to be a part of a ton of wins. When you can win in this league, you win. It doesn’t matter if it’s preseason, a scrimmage, regular season, a postseason game; you have to take advantage of each win. It’s great for the team. It’s special and I’m happy for our organization.”

Eerily, Friday night came almost exactly to the day last year of one of his worst pro memories.

Blough was one of the featured players on Hard Knocks with the Lions and the team was playing its first preseason game against the Falcons at home on Friday night, Aug. 12. They led 23-20 and had a first down at their own 36-yard line with 2:04 remaining in the game. Atlanta had one timeout. Victory was in sight.

However, Blough botched the center snap and the Falcons recovered at the 33-yard line. Five plays later, Atlanta went ahead 27-23 with 1:30 remaining.

Blough went back on the field with 1:25 on the clock, also on the 25-yard line. He did move the ball to the Falcons’ 49-yard line on a 23-yard pass to wide receiver Tom Kennedy with 16 seconds remaining, but the next two passes were incomplete. Game over, and the Hard Knocks cameras caught it all, including 19 days later when he was waived a day after the cut to 53 when the Lions signed quarterback Nate Sudfeld, who had been released by the 49ers the day before.

He was glad who was there to watch.

“My mom’s done a great job about coming, whether it’s college or my opportunities in the NFL,” Blough said. “It’s a fun one I’ll remember, and I’m sure she will.”

Reminded about the highs and lows of the game and last year’s experience, Blough said,Yeah; I think a big part of everybody’s story is when you get to that point is redemption. You only get so many opportunities and to be able to capitalize on them is a good feeling.”

For at least one night in August, David Blough had that.

In Tune with Clayton

Rookie quarterback Clayton Tune played 62 percent of the offensive snaps while completing 13 of 23 passes for 135 yards with one touchdown and interception. While many debate whether Tune can start the opener instead of McCoy (presuming Murray isn’t ready to play), the most important question is whether he is ready to be McCoy’s backup.

Asked about Tune’s play, Gannon said, “I hear them listening to (passing game coordinator/wide receivers coach) Drew (Terrell) on the headset. A rookie in his first NFL game; he probably wants a couple throws back just like I want a couple things back. What I did during the game and during the week too, but I thought he settled down. I thought he made some plays with his legs, which is huge in today’s NFL. You see he’s a mobile guy.

“He placed a few throws in there, but like I said he’ll go back in there and all our guys will go back in there and say, ‘All right, let’s get onto details and how can I get a little bit better?’ But I was pleased with the operation from him.”

Said Tune, “I feel good to have played my first game. It felt really good to be playing football again; some things to work through. There are some decisions out there that I could have made that would have resulted in better plays, some throws I could have made. That’s going to be with any game. You just have to watch the film, learn from it and get better.”

He showed poise on a 7-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Kaden Davis that resulted in the Cardinals tying the game at 10 in the fourth quarter.

We actually went on two there, so we tried to draw the coverage with the first cadence,” Tune said. “I knew that the safety to his side was blitzing, so right then and there I knew I had it. Snapped the ball and let Kaden run a good route and throw it to him.”

Asked about air-mailing a couple passes to the diminutive Greg Dortch, he said, “I was a little juiced up, got excited and threw it a little too hard. Easy fix.”

When I mentioned I had joked that perhaps he forgot Dortch is only 5-foot-7, Tune laughed and said,“If he was 6-3, I don’t think he would have caught those.”

The quotebook

Gannon on communication among the coaching staff: “Yeah, it was good. I had to tell a couple guys to speak up a little bit. I couldn’t hear them truthfully. I said, ‘Turn your volume up a little bit.’ But JG, five minutes ago you said turn the volume down, so damned if you do damned if you don’t, but it was good. It was clean. We don’t have a lot of ego on this staff. They know it’s not about them. It’s about the players and they’re here to serve the players on game day as well. We’ve got to make sure that we operate in a way that helps the players, so I was pleased with the headset.”

On what he liked from right tackle Paris Johnson Jr., who played 19 percent of the snaps: “I thought he played well. I thought he protected well. He had a couple of good run blocks in there that I saw. I’ve got to watch his tape on that, but there’s no doubt that it’s not too big for that guy. He came in, he was all smiles, he was lathered up and ready to go.”

On linebacker Zaven Collins performance tonight at his new position: “He looked good, I thought. I don’t know exactly how many snaps he got (seven), but I thought he was coming off the rock pretty good. I saw somebody’s neck snap back pretty good.”

On how linebacker Dennis Gardeck played: “We gave up an explosive (for 19 yards to the Cardinals’ 22-yard line) and then he got us out of it with a sack on second down. That’s why I always say sacks are great. Sacks are really good on first and second down because that got him behind the sticks and we played third down. I think they had to punt there, or maybe they missed the field goal (a 47-yarder). He’s going to be an asset for us there’s no doubt.”

Charting the snaps (snaps/percentage; starters in bold)

OFFENSE (79 snaps, 35 players)

Quarterbacks: Clayton Tune (49/62), David Blough (21/27), Colt McCoy (9/11)

Did not play: Jeff Driskel (injured)

PUP: Kyler Murray

Running backs: Emari Demercado (29/37), Ty’Son Williams (27/34), Corey Clement (24/30)

Did not play: James Conner, Keaontay Ingram, Stevie Scott

Reserve/injured: Marlon Mack

Wide receivers: Andre Baccellia (34/43), Davion Davis (31/39), Kaden Davis (29/37), Daniel Arias (25/32), Greg Dortch (21/27), Brian Cobbs (17/22), Brandon Smith (15/19), Zach Pascal (14/18), Michael Wilson (14/18), Rondale Moore (10/13)

Did not play: Marquise Brown

Tight ends: Blake Whiteheart (52/66), Joel Honigford (24/30), Bernhard Seikovits (17/22), Geoff Swaim (9/11)

Did not play: Trey McBride, Noah Togiai (injured)

PUP: Zach Ertz

Offensive linemen: G Dennis Daley (46/58), C Jon Gaines II (43/54), T Josh Jones (43/54), G Marquis Hayes (43/54), T Jackson Barton (43/54), LT/RT Kelvin Beachum (36/46), G Hayden Howerton (21/27), T Badara Traore (21/27), C Pat Elflein (21/27), LG Elijah Wilkinson (15/19), C Hjalte Froholdt (15/19), RB Will Hernandez (15/19), RT Paris Johnson Jr. (15/19), G Lecitus Smith (11/14), G Lachavious Simmons (10/13)

Did not play: T D.J. Humphries

DEFENSE (64 snaps, 33 players)

Defensive linemen: DE Dante Stills (34/53), DE Ben Stille (24/38), DE Eric Banks (23/36), NT Rashard Lawrence (23/36), DE Calvin Watkins (21/33), NT Kevin Strong Jr. (20/31, DE L.J. Collier (7/11), DE Jonathan Ledbetter (7/11), NT Leki Fotu (4/6)

Did not play: NT Jacob Slade

Linebackers: OLB Jesse Luketa (31/48), OLB Victor Dimukeje (29/45), ILB Owen Pappoe (28/44), ILB Krys Barnes (28/44), OLB Cameron Thomas (28/44), OLB David Anenih (26/41), ILB Josh Woods (25/39), ILB Ezekiel Turner (19/30), ILB Kyle Soelle (11/17), OLB Dennis Gardeck (7/11), OLB Zaven Collins (7/11)

Did not play: OLB BJ Ojulari, OLB Myjai Sanders, ILB Kyzir White

Defensive backs: S Andre Chachere (37/58), CB Antonio Hamilton Sr. (35/55), CB Nate Hairston (31/48), S JuJu Hughes (31/48), CB Kei’Trel Clark (29/45), CB Christian Matthew (29/45), CB Kyler McMichael (28/44), S Jovante Moffatt (26/41), S Kendell Brooks (17/27), S Isaiah Simmons (14/22), CB Kris Boyd (11/17), CB Marco Wilson (7/11), S Jalen Thompson (7/11)

Did not play: S Budda Baker, CB Rashad Fenton, CB Bobby Price, CB Quavian White

NFI: CB Garrett Williams

SPECIAL TEAMS (25 snaps, 56 players)

LB Victor Dimukeje (16/64), S Andre Chachere (15/60), LB Owen Pappoe (15/60), LB Jesse Luketa (14/56), LB Ezekiel Turner (11/44), CB Kyler McMichael (10/40), S Jovante Moff(10/40), CB Kris Boyd (10/40), LB Josh Woods (9/36), LB Kyle Soelle (9/36), LS Aaron Brewer (8/32), WR Daniel Arias (8/32), LB Krys Barnes (8/32), LB Cameron Thomas (8/32), CB Nate Hairston (7/28), P/KO/H Nolan Cooney (6/24), K Matt Prater (5/20), TE Blake Whiteheart (5/20), LB David Anenih (5/20), CB Antonio Hamilton Sr. (5/20), CB Kei’Trel Clark (5/20), CB Christian Matthew (5/20), RS Greg Dortch (4/16), Matt Haack (4/16), TE Bernhard Seikovits (4/16), DE Calvin Watkins (4/16), G Dennis Daley (3/12), C Jon Gaines II (3/12), T Josh Jones (3/12), G Hayden Howerton (3/12), T Badara Traore (3/12), C Pat Elflein (3/12), G Lachavious Simmons (3/12), WR Davion Davis (3/12), WR Kaden Davis (3/12), WR Brian Cobbs (3/12), DE Dante Stills (3/12), DE Ben Stille (3/12), WR Zach Pascal (2/8), WR Andre Baccellia (2/8), RB Corey Clement (2/8), DE Eric Banks (2/8), NT Kevin Strong Jr. (2/8), S Isaiah Simmons (2/8), RB Emari Demercado (1/4), TE Joel Honigford (1/4), DE L.J. Collier (1/4), DE Jonathan Ledbetter (1/4), NT Rashard Lawrence (1/4), NT Leki Fotu (1/4), LB Dennis Gardeck (1/4), LB Zaven Collins (1/4), CB Marco Wilson (1/4), S Jalen Thompson (1/4)

Reserve/injured: LS Matt Hembrough

Don’t hesitate to comment or ask questions on Twitter @hbalzer721 or email me: howard@gophnx.com. Also, become a DIEHARD and use the promo code HOWARD

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