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Winning in the NFL is hard, and everyone associated with a team understands that. Losing is excruciating and it tests your will on a daily basis especially when there are consistent losses or ones like the Cardinals experienced in the first two weeks of Jonathan Gannon’s first season as a head coach.
That’s why Sunday’s 28-16 victory over the Cowboys at State Farm Stadium with a large Dallas following present was one to savor, not only as it was the team’s first under Gannon and general manager Monti Ossenfort, but because it was over a celebrated opponent and just might put an end to the endless outside stories of an organization that is tanking and that doesn’t care about winning this year while a roster is also being built with the future in mind.
There was no better example of that than watching Ossenfort engage with every member of the team as they exited the field after the game was over.
It didn’t matter whether you were a player, coach, equipment guy or whatever, a jubilant Ossenfort was vocal, slapped shoulders, pumped his arms and fists and doled out plenty of hugs as the emotion poured from his pores.
And the players were impressed.
Said left tackle D.J. Humphries, “It was so good. Monti is a very cool, chill guy. It was really good to see a lot of emotion come out of Monti. You are around a guy and you watch him be a certain way for so long and you finally see him let out a little emotion.
“Let his hair down. Even though he’s bald, he let his hair down a little bit at the end there. That was fun for me to see. That’s how you learn people. That was dope for me to see. He has that fire to him like that.”
Rookie wide receiver Michael Wilson, who had a crucial 69-yard pass play in the fourth quarter that led to the final points of the game, said, “It’s always a great feeling when coaches, GMs, owners, people in the higher ups show raw emotion and you see that in real time. Because it shows that they care about winning, they care about the guys in the locker room, so that makes you want to play harder for them, when you see how much it means to them.”
Quarterback Joshua Dobbs, who along with the team had his second consecutive turnover-free game while completing 17-of-21 passes for 189 yards, one touchdown and a 120.0 passer rating, was impressed with Ossenfort’s actions (“that was great”) and shared a message the GM gave the team during the week.
Dobbs said, “Last week he came in; he said we took a step from Week 1 to Week 2. He said let’s take another step from Week 2 to Week 3, which we did. So, it was a great, great feeling. As I said last week, we put in a lot of hours, hard work, front office, coaches, players, right, so it feels good when you win.
“You got to enjoy them because they’re difficult to come by in the NFL. So, we’ll enjoy it, but we’re right back to work tomorrow. Snap and clear; get on to the next game.”
It was also gratifying to see the exodus of Cowboys fans before the game had ended.
“It was awesome,” Humphries said. “It was hard to hear there for a while, but it was good to see them storming out of there early.”
Wilson agreed, saying, “Great. Anytime you can beat the Cowboys or America’s Team as they call themselves, it’s a great feeling because it’s a storied franchise and I’m really proud of the team right now for coming out with that victory.”
Kicker Matt Prater, who nailed a 62-yard field goal (the third of 60 yards or more in his career) at the end of the first half, said succinctly, “That was the greatest part of the day.”
Dobbs loved that part, but also that the starved home fans were able to see a victory before the calendar turned to October.
The Cardinals hadn’t won on a Sunday in State Farm Stadium since Oct. 24, 2021, and their only home win last season was on Thursday, Oct. 20. They had lost 13 of their last 14 in Glendale and not many of these players experienced those dark days.
Only 25 on the current active roster were with the team last season and there are 16 from 2021.
Dobbs is one of the many newbies and he tipped his cap to the fans.
“It was great to see the Red Sea, too,” he said. “I know they (Cowboys fans) travel well, but it’s good to hear our fans cheering for us as we got the dub to finish it off. So, it was good to send them home a little early and enjoy the moment with our guys. So, appreciate you all. We’ll keep going, keep improving.”
Another first-year Cardinal is linebacker Kyzir White, who played for Gannon and defensive coordinator Nick Rallis (he was the linebackers coach) with the Eagles and signed as an unrestricted free agent in March. To say he was a thorn in the Cowboys’ side Sunday would be a massive understatement.
White was everywhere, totaling 14 tackles (eight unassisted), one tackle for loss and a pass defensed. Most important, he essentially sealed the victory with an end-zone interception of quarterback Dak Prescott on third-and-goal from the 6-yard line with three minutes remaining in the game. It might be worthy of being NFC Defensive Player of the Week.
It was the first turnover for Dallas this season and its fourth red-zone failure of the game. Entering Week 3, the Cowboys had reached the red zone 10 times and scored five touchdowns and five field goals.
In five trips Sunday, they scored one touchdown and two field goals while being stopped on fourth-and-3 from the 4-yard line in the third quarter along with the White interception.
When asked whether he was in the right place at the right time or if he saw something on that play, White said, “I was surprised he threw it to be honest. That play-call, I was messing it up a bit during the week and I was telling myself this morning, I was praying, that if Rallis calls that defense and that play-call that I won’t mess it up. I think I was 100 percent on it all game, so I was proud of myself in that regard.”
So, what were your thoughts as the ball was coming to you?
“Don’t drop it,” White said. “Please don’t drop it.”
Prescott said wide receiver Brandin Cooks “was boom-boom getting behind the linebacker. I thought he did a good job of playing it and looking my way and I just put it by his ear. I knew it was going to be a tough throw, but at that moment (I was) trying to make the throw. Obviously, the linebacker made a great play. I just tried to put it behind his ear thinking I had enough space to just get it up and down in the back.”
As for the red-zone issues, Prescott explained, “We’ve got to do better. Just as a team and as a unit. Myself, I have to make some throws. Maybe use my feet more. Obviously, that’s an area that we haven’t been good in these last two weeks and even with the win last week that was the sore spot in the win and obviously, look at this loss.
“We moved the ball up and down the field, but just couldn’t score so that’s the reason for this loss. We’ve got to get back to the drawing board and it starts with me with making some throws and making some plays with my feet and trying to get it done.”
Against the Jets in Week 2, the Cowboys won 30-10, but on six red-zone trips, scored two touchdowns and settled for four field goals.
White said the focus during the week was on that area of the field where the Giants scored four consecutive second-half touchdowns last week and might have scored another, but they were setting up for the game-winning field goal.
White said, “Last week against the Giants, we were giving up touchdowns in the red zone. This week, the big emphasis was let’s be great in the red zone and limit them to three whether we are playing on a short field or not. When they drive it down there, let’s just try to get them to kick some field goals.”
Noting that his connection with Gannon is more than the typical coach-player relationship, White said, “That is my guy. He put his face out there for me bringing me over here. If I come out here and lay an egg, he and Rallis look like crazy guys. I definitely do not want that to happen and I want to keep continuing to get better and keep striving for greatness.”
Gannon said, “He’s a captain for a reason. He wears the green dot. He keeps those guys composed even when it doesn’t look like it’s going good, but what I’m proud of is not just Kyzir, but really all the captains and the entire team, is the fight. They’ve got to keep punching. It’s a heavyweight battle. You’ve got to keep fighting and you’re going to take some shots, but you’ve got to give your shots back too. I liked his demeanor all day. I really liked his week of practice and obviously the production was there.”
As for the win and Ossenfort’s reaction, White said, “First year being a GM and same with JG getting his first win. They both got their first wins. It felt good. Especially, when everybody is saying we are going to go winless. To get a win against the Cowboys, a great team like that, it felt good.”
Seeing the Cowboys fans leaving early, White said, “That felt good for sure. I just came from Philly, so I still have it in my blood. It felt good. I don’t like the Cowboys at all and never did.”
That does, however, result in some difficult situations because he admitted, “I have a lot of family that are Cowboys fans. They are texting me that they are rooting for the Cowboys. I feel that I had a lot to prove today. I wanted to upset some family members that were going against me.”
Will you text them?
“Yeah. For sure,” he said. “I am going to talk trash right after I get out of here.”
The Prater kick
There seemed to be little chance of scoring at the end of the first half when the Cardinals’ possession began at their 29-yard line with 25 seconds on the clock.
Special-teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers and offensive coordinator Drew Petzing had big contributions in addition to Prater.
Said Gannon, “That was awesome by Jeff and Drew, because we said when we got the ball back it was like, ‘Hey, here’s the line and you can call the two-minute creatively or do different things.’ I thought Drew did a good job to get it there and then obviously he (Prater) is premier to bang that one through. It probably would have been good from 65.”
A first-down play went to wide receiver Hollywood Brown for 14 yards and a Dallas offside penalty moved the ball to the 48. After an incomplete pass, Dobbs hit wide receiver Rondale Moore for six yards and a timeout stopped the clock with eight seconds showing. Rookie running back Emari Demercado got two yards closer and the final timeou8t stopped the clock with four seconds to play.
The snap to Prater came back with the laces facing in and he launched a low line drive that appeared to have little chance of being successful.
Prater felt the same way. He said, “Anytime you’re back that far, you hope it stays straight. You basically just try to swing to get it there. Fortunately, it went straight. When I first hit it, I didn’t think it was going to get there because it didn’t feel good off my foot. I didn’t even realize it (was good) until I saw the refs put their hands up.”
That gave the Cardinals a 21-10 lead at halftime and they have led each game after two quarters. The combined score is 54-20.
In Week 2, the Giants totaled 358 yards in the second half to roar back from a 20-0 halftime deficit to win the game 31-28.
At halftime Sunday, the Cardinals had outgained Dallas 266-153 and averaged 8.3 yard per play to the Cowboys’ 4.9. In the third quarter, it appeared there would be a repeat of the previous week.
The Cowboys had 157 yards on 20 plays in the third quarter to the Cardinals’ 18 on nine plays, but the defense held Dalals to a field goal on the opening possession of the quarter and then had the fourth-down stop. On the first, the Cowboys had three consecutive third-down conversions, but failed on third-and-7 from the 8-yard line.
Dallas opened the final quarter with a 12-play drive that gained 42 yards and included a 14-yard pass-interference penalty on cornerback Kei’Trel Clark. But the defense again allowed only a field goal. Still, the game was in the balance at 21-16.
That’s when Dobbs found a wide-open Wilson for 69 yards and then on third-and-goal from the 2-yard line found Brown for a touchdown and 28-16 lead. The Cardinals scored touchdowns on their two red-zone opportunities against a team that had allowed only three red-zone trips in two games and had allowed only one field goal.
Brown led the team with seven targets and five catches for 61 yards including one for 23 yards.
So, how did you get so open?
Wilson said, “Receivers coach (Drew Terrell) tells us how when you motion like that, it can confuse the defense. I think that Hollywood was having such a great game, they were worried about him on the over because he’s the No. 1 in that progression and they just completely forgot about me. I was just wide open.”
The one negative when asked if it will be interesting to see the play on tape?
He said, “I know I’m going to be losing sleep because everyone’s going to tell me I should have scored on that.”
Cowboys safety Malik Hooker said it was “just some miscommunication. Obviously, a lot of movement happened on that play, our eyes were bad there. Like I said from top to bottom, it’s just miscommunication and bad eyes and bad ball overall. Especially in that moment because we had a chance to be able to come back and win at that point and make a statement, but we gave up a big play and they ended up scoring. That was on us as a secondary.”
Bleeding the clock
White’s interception came on the next possession after the Cowboys had run 13 plays for 64 yards. They ended the game with 416 to Arizona’s 400, a 247-134 advantage in the final two quarters. Still, the Cowboys had allowed only 348 yards total in the first two games and 3.48 per play. The Cardinals averaged 7.5 per play, which was helped by explosives with seven plays of 20 yards or more and three of 44, 45 and 69.
Most important, after the interceptions, the Cardinals made sure Dallas didn’t get the ball back.
“What I really enjoyed was the four-minute offense at the end of the game,” Dobbs said. “We talked about finish, right, play against a really good front and we were able to get some first downs running the ball.”
The key was on third-and-1 from the 29-yard line with 2:50 left after the Cowboys had used two of their three timeouts.
Petzing (or Gannon?) brought the Philadelphia push play to the desert as Dobbs was pushed from behind and gained three yards.
He said, “It was fun, man. You see the Eagles run it to perfection. So, it was good to be able to have those short yardage converting, offensive line being able to push the pile and get first downs.”
After that, there were two James Conner runs for seven and nine yards sandwiched around a Dallas facemask penalty and then two kneeldowns.
Conner rushed for 98 yards on 14 attempts (7.0 average), while Dobbs added 55 and Moore on a 45-yard touchdown run. The Cardinals ran for 221 yards on 30 carries (7.4 average).
Dobbs summed it up, saying, “Finish in victory formation. It’s very hard to do in the NFL. So, it was a great feeling on offense. Any time you’re able to end the game, especially in the NFL, in victory formation is the best play in the game. So, to do that out there on that field was great. And we want to keep doing that moving forward.”
They’ll try again next Sunday in San Francisco where they open as 14-point underdogs.
Don’t hesitate to comment or ask questions on Twitter @hbalzer721 or email me: firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, become a DIEHARD and use the promo code HOWARD
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