Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.
Luck favored the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday when Minnesota Vikings placekicker Greg Joseph missed a 37-yard field goal wide to the right as time expired, giving a wild game a wild finish. The Cardinals prevailed 34-33 to improve to 2-0 on the young season — while Minnesota drops to 0-2.
Minnesota’s missed field goal was obviously the biggest play of the game since it was the last and had the potential to win the game. But before that, let’s focus on how Arizona took the lead midway through the fourth quarter.
With 6:12 left in the game, the Cardinals faced a 4th & 5 from the Minnesota 41 yard line and head coach Kliff Kingsbury decided to go for it. He dialed up a play similar to what we saw in Week 1 at Tennessee, when quarterback Kyler Murray ran straight back on the snap and lobbed a moon ball to wide receiver Christian Kirk deep down field. For the second straight week, the play worked to perfection. Murray again launched it to a streaking Kirk for a gain of 35 yards and put the Cardinals offense down at the 6 yard line. A few plays later, kicker Matt Prater booted an easy 27 yard field goal to give Arizona a 34-33 lead that they would miraculously hold on to until the finish.
Let’s Recap What Happened
The Vikings offense looked formidable from the very start, only needing two plays for a touchdown on the opening drive. Minnesota quarterback Kirk Cousins found a wide open K.J. Osborn (Cardinals DB Byron Murphy forgot to keep running on the play) for a 64 yard touchdown pass on the 2nd play of the game, and just like that it was 7-0 Vikings.
A few series later, the Cardinals drove 73 yards down the field to put its first points on the board. Kyler Murray hit DeAndre Hopkins for a 15-yard touchdown pass and the game was tied 7-7 with about five minutes left in the first quarter. However, that was the last time Hopkins touched the ball. Hard to believe or even understand, but Hopkins wasn’t even targeted the rest of the game.
Minnesota responded the very next drive, marching 75 yards over 9 plays, capped by a 7-yard touchdown pass from Cousins to Adam Thielin. 14-7 Vikings and they weren’t done.
After a Cardinals three and out, Minnesota pulled off another 9 play drive to again find the end zone. This time is was Cousins connecting with Justin Jefferson on a 14 yard score, Cousins’ third touchdown pass of the first half. Kicker Greg Joseph missed the extra point attempt, which proved to be costly in the long run– look at the final score. 20-7 Minnesota lead and they seemed to be in firm control of the game, with a lively visiting crowd of fans on their side.
The Cardinals quickly worked to quiet the hostile crowd with a 9 play scoring drive of their own. A bizarre fumble call on Rondale Moore was overturned and Kyler Murray finished the drive with a 12 yard rushing touchdown, his second straight week finding the end zone by throwing and passing for each in the same game. 20-14 Minnesota late in the 2nd quarter.
After a quick defensive stop, the Cardinals got the ball back with 1:46 left in the first half, but only needed one play to score. Murray made some magic happen with his legs to escape pressure and found a wide open Moore deep down field. Moore blazed the rest of they way for a 77 yard touchdown, the first of his NFL career. 21-20 Cardinals.
The two teams traded field goals in the final 25 seconds and Arizona took a 24-23 lead into halftime. It was already the most entertaining game of this NFL Sunday and was shaping up for an epic 2nd half.
2nd Half Drama
It didn’t take long for the dramatics after halftime.
On the 2nd play of the 3rd quarter, Murray was picked off by Vikings linebacker Nick Vigil who returned it 38 yards for a pick-six which gave Minnesota a 30-24 lead.
The Cardinals fought back on the very next series, going on an 8 play 75 yard scoring drive, finished by A.J. Green’s first touchdown in an Arizona uniform. 31-30 Arizona with 9:11 left to play in the third quarter.
Several punts and another Kyler Murray interception filled the time until Minnesota regained the lead early in the fourth quarter on a Joseph 52 yard field goal. 33-31 Vikings with 14:12 left to play in the game.
Three series later, Prater hit the go-ahead 27 yard field goal for a 34-33 Cardinals lead that they would hold on to.
Why The Cardinals Should’ve Lost
Arizona’s defense was not very good all game long. Minnesota running back Dalvin Cook chewed up 131 yards on the ground, averaging 6 yards per carry. Cousins sat pretty in a clean pocket most of the game and was sacked only once (Markus Golden).
The Cards defense however, stood tall when it needed to, forcing Minnesota to punt with 2:52 left in the game.
The Cardinals likely needed two first downs to run out the clock and ice the game.
That’s when stupidity took over.
On the first play, Kyler Murray rushed the ball for four yards but ran out of bounds to stop the clock.
On the next play, (2nd and 6) Kingsbury called a pass play and Murray took a sack for a loss of 10 yards. Minnesota used its first timeout and was in good position to get the ball back with time to score.
The Cardinals completed the idiot trifecta on 3rd and long by throwing a short gainer to Chase Edmonds. Minnesota burned its 2nd timeout and the Cardinals had to punt it away only managing to use 24 seconds of game clock on the most important series of the game.
The Vikings got the ball back with 2:09 to play, at their 23 yard line with one timeout and the two minute warning. Doom for the Cardinals was imminent.
Minnesota’s well executed 8 play drive took them down to the Arizona 20 yard line before Lady Luck took over and pushed Joseph’s game winning attempt wide right and ensured the Cardinals win.
Kyler Murray once again looked like an MVP-caliber player, passing for 400 yards and three touchdowns. However, his two interceptions were costly. He needs to be better about reading the coverage, because both picks were easy-picking for Vikings defenders.
The Cardinals pass rush was non-existent. Coming off a week when he sacked Titans QB Ryan Tannehill five times, linebacker Chandler Jones was held in check. Jones not only was shutout from the sack stat column, he didn’t even record a single tackle (which isn’t all that surprising considering he’s never been able to defend against the run).
Arizona’s defense was not able to force turnovers or stop the run. Dalvin Cook could very well have had a 200 yard game if the Vikings called his number more often. That’s how dominant Minnesota’s offensive line was — punishing the Cardinals defensive line all game long. Cook, however, went to the sidelines a handful of times with apparent injuries, which may have slowed him down towards the end of the game.
The Cardinals at 2-0 are off to an amazing start but its only keeping pace with the rest of the NFC West. Division foes L.A. and San Francisco have also started 2-0. Seattle took its first loss, falling at home in overtime to Tennessee. Through two weeks, the NFC West has a combined 7-1 record.
Vikings pass rusher Danielle Hunter was a one-man wrecking crew: 7 tackles, 3 sacks and so much harassment of Kyler Murray that the Cardinals QB might have nightmares tonight. The offensive line needs to protect their most valuable player better if they want to continue to win games.
To borrow from the famous Keyshawn Johnson phrase: give DeAndre Hopkins the damn ball! Hopkins was only targeted four times (caught all 4) and that all came in the first quarter in the first two drives. After the 5:49 mark of the first, the ball never went his way. I doubt the goal was to inflate Patrick Peterson’s ego any more than it already is, but the former Cardinals DB must feel like he’s once again a shut down corner for holding the NFL’s premier receiver to only four catches.
A win is a win and there’s no need to apologize for it.
The Cardinals are back on the road in Week 3 at Jacksonville (0-2). The Jaguars were the worst team in the league a year ago and appear to still hold that dubious rank this season.
It would be an incredibly epic failure if the Cardinals don’t come home 3-0 next Sunday afternoon before a Week 4 showdown with the Rams.