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Whether it’s déjà vu or a broken record, words that have been used to describe the first seven games of the Cardinals season aside from the Week 3 win over the Dallas Cowboys, it’s simply same result, different Sunday following the 31-24 loss to the Baltimore Ravens that truthfully wasn’t as close as the final score indicated.
So it has come to this with several players and coach Jonathan Gannon heralding the fight and grit in a team that trailed 24-7 with 9:27 remaining in the fourth quarter and at least made the remainder of the game interesting.
“We kept our heads down and got back into the game,” Gannon said. “Ultimately, we didn’t do enough to win it.”
No, they didn’t, especially considering the reality that the Cardinals never had the ball in the final quarter behind by one score as a 47-yard Matt Prater field goal produced the final points of the game with 26 seconds showing on the clock.
When the ensuing onside kick was recovered by Ravens wide receiver Nelson Agholor, only one kneeldown was needed to end the game.
Quarterback Joshua Dobbs, who had two bad interceptions from his own 24- and 10-yard lines in the second and third quarters to help turn a 7-7 game into a 21-7 Ravens lead, thought “the way that we stayed together and fought was very impressive. Fighting to the last possible second, guys laying it out there straining for their brothers was great to see. The team, that offense, defense, and special teams do that, make plays. We didn’t make enough to win, but that strain, that culture that’s building, was great to see a part of the team.”
Still, it can’t be ignored that after the second interception with 1:45 to play in the third quarter, Dobbs had completed only 9-of-16 passes for 63 yards and a 25.8 passer rating. That included a 3-for-3 performance for 24 yards on the game-opening possession that was helped by two third-down Ravens penalties and resulted in a short-lived 7-0 lead.
After the Ravens made it 21-7 three plays after the second interception, the Cardinals went three-and-out “totaling” minus-7 yards. The Ravens then pounded the ground game with seven runs for 37 yards and settled for a Justin Tucker 48-yard field goal and that 24-7 lead on their first possession of the fourth quarter.
Gannon acknowledged the fourth quarter offensive success that occurred after the field goal was because the Ravens “probably switched up how they’re playing a little bit. That went into that a little bit.”
Of course, he then said, “I thought that we kept fighting and we executed some plays down there to get back in the game to kind of open it up a little bit. But in the second and third quarter, the two takeaways kind of put us behind the eight ball so we’ve got to work to get that cleaned up.”
But can they with Dobbs at quarterback? It’s been a persistent theme of the season with some good things, but too many inaccurate throws, interceptions and sack/fumbles. He didn’t throw an interception in the first four games of the season, but has five in the last four games. It’s why we can’t forget that Dobbs has been a career backup and to quote a cliché, he is what he is.
Asked about the crucial interceptions, Dobbs said, “Those were frustrating for me personally, because I can’t place our defense in those situations. Just watching the ebbs and flows of the game, we have long fields to drive, our defense was doing a tremendous job keeping the offense at bay, making them drive the field, holding them to non-explosives. As the quarterback, you can’t put the defense in that position. So that’s an opportunity for me to grow. I can’t put the team in that position and I could be better on those two plays.”
Still, Gannon insists Dobbs’ play has been “good” this season. “It’s the NFL,” he said. “You make plays, you don’t make plays. You’ve just got to work to stay consistent and make sure that we’re doing the right things taking care of the football and producing at a high level.”
But he hasn’t. Even with a fourth quarter in which he completed 15-of-20 passes for 148 yards, two touchdowns and a 128.8 rating, that still left him with only 208 yards passing for the game and a 77.3 rating. Even with the productive final quarter, Dobbs’ 25 completions averaged a mere 8.3 yards and his average per attempt was 5.62. Entering the game, his 5.94 yards per attempt ranked 29th in the NFL.
While fans are frustrated looking forward to the return of Kyler Murray and wonder why rookie Clayton Tune doesn’t get a chance with the team 1-7, Gannon responded with a simple “yes” when asked if Dobbs will start in next Sunday’s game at Cleveland.
The fourth quarter also helped the team avoid a horrific offensive performance, at least passing. After the opening drive gained 52 yards on 12 plays, the next 35 plays totaled 83 yards (2.37 per play). They entered the fourth quarter with 135 yards on 47 plays (2.87 per play) before running 24 plays for 175 yards (7.29 per play) in the final 9:27.
Admittedly, it is good to see a camaraderie developing within the team, despite the frustrations.
“We were just fighting,” wide receiver Hollywood Brown said. “One thing about this team is that we fight until the end and I’m proud of all the guys for how we finished. It’s good for us going forward.”
Playing against his former team, Brown had six receptions but for only 33 yards that included a 1-yard touchdown.
Tight end Trey McBride, who had 10 catches on 14 targets for 95 yards and a 17-yard touchdown when teammates helped him navigate the final few yards into the end zone, said, “We’re in every game, we’re so close to winning and I think with the fight, the toughness, and the resilience that our team is showing we’re not that far off. It’s very encouraging to see the fight that we have. It’s not like we’re getting blown out or giving up, we’re fighting until the very end. It’s very encouraging to see that as a player.”
It was disappointing the two interceptions that changed the game took the focus away from a defense that held quarterback Lamar Jackson in check and forced the offense to get away from the running game that saw Emari Demercado rush for 78 yards on 20 attempts after rushing for 58 yards on 13 carries last week against Seattle.
He had 60 yards at halftime on 14 rushes, but had no carries in a fourth quarter in which there were 20 pass attempts, two runs by Dobbs and one 14-yard gain by running back Keaontay Ingram. After Ingram’s run with 7:41 to play, there were 17 passes and one run by Dobbs.
Demercado said, “I feel good. Just getting more and more comfortable with the more snaps and touches that I get. Just going out there and being able to play at the highest of my ability.”
He also loved the way the team kept battling despite being down three scores.
He said, “I think that is huge. Just to keep fighting. It shows how much heart and grit this team has. Anybody can just throw in the towel and say that we lost. It shows how much ‘want to’ this team has.
“I think we are really close. Tight-knit. That is a big thing. Just having your brothers back no matter what. Good, bad, or indifferent. Just knowing that you have your brothers back.”
Noting that “the fight in this team is unwavering,” Gannon was pleased with a defense that limited the Ravens to 268 yards on 60 plays (4.5 average) after totaling 503 yards and 9.1 per play in a 38-6 win over Detroit last week. Jackson completed 21-of-27 passes for 357 yards with three touchdowns and completed eight passes of 20 or more yards for 260 of the total passing yards against the Lions. Sunday, they had only two of 20 or more yards for 53 total yards.
Gannon said, “It’s a good offense. I thought they defended them well. They executed the game plan. I thought the run game looked pretty good there until the very end. We contained Lamar. I thought they played pretty well.”
Safety Jalen Thompson was back reunited with Budda Baker after missing two games with a hamstring injury and each had six tackles with a combined nine solo.
“I feel like the defense took a big step today,” Thompson said. “But as a team, I feel like we need to take an even bigger step. Just make all the plays we need to and focus on those little details. That’s our issue I feel like as a defense; just the little issues and little details.”
–Trystan Colon, who started last week with Elijah Wilkinson inactive, started again Sunday with Wilkinson placed on reserve/injured Saturday. However, he suffered a knee injury on the second play of the game and didn’t return. Dennis Daley played the remainder of the game at left guard.
–Rookie cornerback Kei’Trel Clark saw his snaps take a precipitous drop after the first four games of the season and didn’t play last week. He was inactive Sunday. Said Gannon, “I like the other guys, what they’re doing right now. They all had a good week of practice, and he’ll be back in the mix. There’s only so many guys that get a jersey on gameday. You have to have a role to be up like the other guys this week.”
–Ravens 355-pound nose tackle Michael Pierce was a big factor in disrupting the Cardinals offense. He had five tackles (four solo), a sack/fumble for 22 lost yards, one tackle for loss and a pass defensed (deflected) that came on a fourth-and-1 play. He also had a tackle on fourth-and-1 that resulted in no gain for Demercado. Those two fourth-down plays came on consecutive possessions in the second quarter.
“He just took over the game inside,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “Mike was dominant.” Said Pierce, “As a defender, especially for me, I never see those kinds of plays come my way. It’s just a momentum jump for everybody; two fourth-down stops, no matter who makes them.”
There was confusion on the fourth-down stop of Demercado when officials spotted the ball right on the Ravens 35-yard line, which was enough for the first down. However, the ball was moved back a half-yard and a measurement showed it short of a first down.
In a pool report, NFL senior vice president of officiating Walt Anderson said, “This was a replay assist from the booth at the stadium. With the replay assist rule, what that allows us to do is provide officials with objective information if we end up with clear and obvious video evidence. We waited a bit because we weren’t exactly sure where the officials were going to initially spot the ball after all the players cleared and we could see it was actually spotted on the big line. Then the replay official told the officials that the ball was clearly short and that’s why the umpire ended up moving the ball. And obviously with it being short on a fourth down with the new rule this year, a failed fourth-down attempt is a booth review. But since we had already assisted, we knew it was short. That’s why we didn’t stop it further to review it again.”
–Ravens tight end Mark Andrews, who attended Desert Mountain High School in Scottsdale, played his first game against the Cardinals in State Farm Stadium. Four years ago when the teams played in Baltimore, Andrews had a touchdown and he matched that in Sunday’s game. Andrews had four receptions for 40 yards and his 5-yard scoring pass tied the game 7-7 in the first quarter.
Andrews told Baltimore media before the game, “Just the fact that last time I played in Arizona was in high school where I started my career, where my family is, where I grew up is cool. I’m excited about that opportunity, and I’m excited to get out there. It’s going to be fun for me.
“I’m going to be thankful. I’m going to have my friends and family there to be able to watch me. It’s not every day that I get to play in my home state and have people that haven’t watched me in a long time get to go. I want to wear that with pride. It’s going to be an emotional game for me. I’m excited about that and will use that for my motivation.”
After the game, he said, “It was awesome. Just having my family in there and having them all be there was special.”
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