After racing out to a 16-0 first quarter lead the Arizona Cardinals looked like they would finally have a lopsided laugher of a game. But a blowout would not be in the cards on Sunday, as Arizona found itself hanging on for dear life at the end, squeezing out a 33-27 victory and maintaining a hold of the seventh and final playoff spot in the NFC. Parts of this game tops our weekly look at the five biggest takeaways in sports.
1. Cardinals offense plays terrific and terrifying in the same game.
It appeared early that this would be a big day for quarterback Kyler Murray. At one point in the first half, he had completed 13 straight passes. He ran for a touchdown and hit running back Chase Edmonds on a wide open pass for another score. Even Larry Fitzgerald caught a touchdown. Fitz’s first TD of the year gave the Cardinals a 26-14 lead and then the offense hit a wall.
Big Takeaway: The Cardinals had 265 yards passing and 52 yards rushing in the first half and seemed to be dominating, but they allowed the four-win Eagles back into the game to make it close because the offense couldn’t do anything in the second half. Murray decided to change their fate when he threw to DeAndre Hopkins for the game-winning touchdown with 7 minutes to play. Murray ended with a career high 406 passing yards, but had a bad interception in the end zone and had two fumbles (one lost). This game showed us how good Murray can be and how bad he can look. The Cardinals will only go as far as he takes them.
2. Cardinals defense shines in biggest moments.
Eagles rookie quarterback Jalen Hurts will be a force to reckon with in the NFL for a long time. On Sunday, Hurts threw for 338 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 63 yards and touchdown against a Cardinals defense that dominated a very bad quarterback in New York a week ago. Despite all the production from Hurts, it was the Cardinals defense that came up with the biggest plays when it mattered most.
Big Takeaway: It’s good to know the defense is up to the task when the offense becomes inept. After a flurry of scores from both teams in the first half, things settled down in the second half and the Cardinals defense only allowed 6 third quarter points and zero in the crunch of the fourth quarter.
3. Special teams deserves some love.
Ezekiel Turner is one of the unsung heroes on this roster. You don’t hear about him very much because he mostly plays special teams, but you heard his name in two huge plays on Sunday. First, the blocked punt in the first quarter that set up the Cardinals second touchdown. Later, as the Cardinals offense looked dead and the punt team came on to the field to begin the fourth quarter, Turner caught a 26–yard pass on a fake punt pass from punter Andy Lee.
Big Takeaway: That series did not result in points, but it appeared to reignite an offense that burned out in the second half. The Cardinals quickly got the ball back and looked to have a renewed sense of urgency getting the ball to Hopkins for the game-winning score. Give head coach Kliff Kingsbury credit for having the guts to call that fake punt pass – and give special teams credit for making the plays that helped win this game.
4. What would a full ASU football season look like?
Junior running back Rachaad White ran for two touchdowns and 158 yards on only 13 carries Saturday night in Corvallis as the Arizona State Sun Devils ran away from the Oregon State Beavers 46-33 in the season finale for both teams. After the game, ASU head coach Herm Edwards told reporters his team would opt out of any bowl game they were picked for, saying the team needed rest after what it went through this season. That included a delayed start of the season and three straight cancelled game because of a COVID outbreak.
Big Takeaway: Good for ASU to say no to playing in a meaningless bowl game. There are only two that matter: College Football Playoff semifinal No. 1 and College Football Playoff semifinal No. 2.
5. More events are coming, but not the fans.
The NBA season returns this week with the Phoenix Suns tipping off Wednesday night, without fans in the newly renovated arena. The NHL on Sunday announced it will begin a 53-game regular season on January 13, although the Canadian teams can’t leave the country. Pac-12 basketball is starting to get into conference play, but both ASU and Arizona had to cancel games this week due to COVID concerns. The Fiesta Bowl is fast approaching, but only immediate family members will be allowed to attend. The Waste Management Phoenix Open is set for early February, limiting attendance to a fraction of what it normally is.
Big Takeaway: I thought having sports without fans would be fine as long as it was on my TV – and I admit I was wrong. There’s something about seeing people lose their minds in the bleachers after a touchdown or the crowd behind a basket trying to distract the free throw shooter. What is the Phoenix Open without half a million people walking around TPC Scottsdale not paying attention to the golf? The world of sports needs fans to return to filling up arenas and stadiums in 2021, but it doesn’t look like that’s happening any time soon.