Every NFL team in some form or another faces their fair share of adversity
At the midway point of 2021, the Arizona Cardinals may have already seen a full season’s worth.
Arizona has rolled with the punches better than most, tallying eight wins over its first nine games, good enough for the best record in the league.
That hasn’t stopped those around the NFL from still pondering if the Cardinals are legit or not, questioning whether they’ve done enough to warrant such claims.
From an adversity standpoint, the proof is in the pudding.
A closer look at what’s come the Cardinals’ way so far in 2021 — and how they’ve handled it:
Offseason: Surprise! I’m out
What happened: The new year didn’t wait long too long to throw a curveball into the Cardinals’ plans in the secondary, with offseason signing and projected starting cornerback Malcolm Butler suddenly retiring before the start of the season.
The result: Byron Murphy has thrived as the team’s No. 1 cornerback. He’s up to three interceptions, eight passes defended and one forced fumble over seven games. A resurgent Robert Alford and rookie Marco Wilson have rounded out the cornerback’s room, helping limit opposing offenses to just 17.2 points per game, third-fewest in the NFL.
Week 2: Better to be lucky than good
What happened: After a downright beatdown of the Tennessee Titans in Week 1, the Cardinals ran into what seemed like a brick wall the following week against the Minnesota Vikings.
Hit in the mouth early by running back Dalvin Cook and quarterback Kirk Cousins, Arizona found itself down 20-7 at one point in the second quarter. The offense was not clicking and the defense appeared to have no answer for the running game.
The result: Quarterback Kyler Murray and the offense kicked into overdrive, outscoring Minnesota 27-13 in a little more than two quarters.
The Cardinals would need a bit of luck to pull off the comeback, however, with Vikings kicker Greg Joseph missing a 37-yard field try as time expire to fall 34-33.
Week 3: Kicking for tricks
What happened: With a 2-0 record under their belt, the Cardinals traveled to Jacksonville to take on the winless Jaguars.
Arizona watched as its offense once again took awhile to get going, but had a chance to go up at the half with a 68-yard field goal try from Matt Prater. The kicker missed short, giving returner Jamal Agnew a chance and he did the rest, going 109 yards the other way for the score. The scoreboard and momentum dramatically swung in the Jaguars direction, with Jacksonville up 13-7.
Adding to the shift, both Cardinals offensive linemen Justin Murray and Justin Pugh went down with injuries. The offensive line room was already thin with Kelvin Beachum out.
The result: Outside of a James Robinson touchdown in the third quarter, the Cardinals had no problem retaking the lead in the second half, outscoring Jacksonville 24-6. Running back James Conner found pay dirt twice in the 31-19 win, while Murphy added a pick-six.
Week 4: Trouble in the trenches
What happened: After playing three games outside of the division, Week 4 sent Arizona to Los Angeles for a divisional matchup with the Rams. In a battle of unbeatens, the Cardinals would be without both offensive linemen Kelvin Beachum and Justin Murray, and going up against a Sean McVay-led Rams team that was victorious over Arizona in its previous eight meetings.
The result: Sliding over Josh Jones to right tackle and plugging in Max Garcia at right guard, the Cardinals didn’t miss a beat, taking hold of a 14-10 lead in the second quarter and never looking back on their way to a 37-20 victory. Arizona’s ground game saw its best day of the season, totaling 216 yards and two touchdowns, while Murray added another 268 yards and two scores through the air.
Week 5: Three CBs are all you need
What happened: The Cardinals picked up a big win over the Rams, but it wasn’t without it’s casualties, most notably Murphy and Wilson.
The duo was forced out of Week 5’s matchup against the San Francisco 49ers with rib injuries suffered the week prior. With their two starting cornerbacks sidelined, Arizona had to rely on just three corners in Alford, Antonio Hamilton and Jace Whittaker.
The result: In what turned out to be a gritty game, Arizona’s defense allowed just 10 points in the victory. The secondary didn’t give up a score through the air and held rookie quarterback Trey Lance to under 200 yards and an interception in his first career start. It was a much-needed showing from the defense after the offense scored a season-low 17 points in the win.
Week 6: COVID Cardinals
What happened: Heading into Week 6’s matchup with the Cleveland Browns, the sky was the limit for the 5-0 Cardinals. But just as things seemed like they couldn’t go wrong, Arizona was hit with a handful of positive COVID-19 cases, with head coach Kliff Kingsbury and linebacker Chandler Jones among those who came down with the virus.
The duo, along with quarterbacks coach Cam Turner and defensive lineman Zach Allen, were forced to miss Sunday’s matchup due to the positive tests. Defensive lineman Corey Peters was also placed on the COVID-19 list the morning of the football game.
Adding to the absences was starting center Rodney Hudson, who was placed on the injured reserve with rib and shoulder injuries and would miss the next three games. Hudson suffered the injuries in the Week 5 win over the 49ers.
The result: The Cardinals jumped out to a 20-0 lead and never looked back. Murray erupted to the tune of four touchdowns and 229 yards as the Cardinals cruised to a 37-14 win over the Browns.
Despite Kingsbury being stuck at home, Arizona scored in every quarter in Week 6, with Hopkins finding pay dirt twice in the victory.
Assistant wide receivers coach Spencer Whipple served as the team’s play caller, while defensive coordinator Vance Joseph was Arizona’s acting head coach in Kingsbury’s absence.
Week 9: Cards depth dominates
What happened: Following a brutal loss to the Green Bay Packers on Thursday Night Football, Arizona needed a bounce-back effort against the 49ers. It would have to do so without the likes of Murray, Hopkins, A.J. Green and J.J. Watt, who were all either banged up or on the COVID-19 list. It marked Murray’s first game missed since he joined the team in 2019 (40 games).
Adding to the team’s injury woes was losing running back Chase Edmonds on the first play from scrimmage.
The result: The Cardinals offense, relying on signal caller Colt McCoy and running back James Conner, looked like the well-oiled machine it has been known to be this season, scoring at least 31 points for the seven time in 2021.
Conner turned his best day as a pro, rushing for 96 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries, while adding another score through the air to go along with 77 receiving yards on five catches.
McCoy looked comfortable running the offense, completing 84.6% of his throws for 249 yards and a touchdown. He’s now second in franchise history behind only Kurt Warner for the highest single-game passing percentage (minimum 20 attempts).
Of the top 8 single-game completion percentage performances in Cardinals franchise history, 3 have come in the 9 games played this season.
Colt McCoy grabbed the #2 spot by completing 22 of 26 passes (84.7%) in yesterday’s win at SF. pic.twitter.com/gxGs7ApP1f
— Mark Dalton (@CardsMarkD) November 8, 2021