"It’s better to be lucky than good.”
That was my thought as the Cardinals escaped State Farm Stadium with a 34-33 victory Sunday when this game was so much like several last season, where there was the chance to put teams away and the offense was unable to seal the deal.
Then, when tight end Maxx Williams spoke to the media, he said those exact words.
“It obviously wasn’t pretty, but we won. It doesn’t matter how you win, but it was fun,” Williams said after he had seven receptions for 94 yards in the victory. “It’s hard to win games in this league. It’s better to be lucky than good.”
Most everyone that talked to the media afterward echoed similar sentiments.
“A win is a win,” said linebacker Jordan Hicks, who once again played a lot of snaps and finished with six tackles and a key pass defensed in the fourth quarter. The six tackles were behind safeties Budda Baker and Jalen Thompson, and linebacker Isaiah Simmons, who all had eight. “You can’t take that for granted. It wasn’t necessarily our best win, but we skated off with one.”
Quarterback Kyler Murray passed for 400 yards and three touchdowns and ran for another, but wasn’t pleased with the two interceptions he threw, one that was returned for a touchdown, and noted, “We weren’t able to finish the game on our terms.”
But Murray said teammates repeated the mantra that many sometimes don’t understand in the NFL: “It’s not easy to win in this league.”
That is easily seen every week. Murray added, “We have to continue to get better, but at the end of the day we got the dub (W).”
The inability to finish, however, can be maddening.
The Cardinals trailed 33-31 in the fourth quarter when Murray hit wide receiver Christian Kirk for a 35-yard gain on fourth-and-5 from the Minnesota 41-yard line with 5:25 remaining in the game. Reach the end zone, and the Cardinals would have forced the Vikings to score a touchdown to win.
However, running back James Conner was dropped for a 3-yard loss on first down and two Murray incompletions led to a 27-yard Matt Prater field goal that ended up being the final points of the game.
Still, the defense came up big on Minnesota’s next possession. After the Vikings had totaled 292 yards by halftime, the clamps were put down. Helped by a holding penalty on left tackle Rashod Hill on first down, after quarterback Kirk Cousins hit wide receiver Justin Jefferson for 13 yards, running back Dalvin Cook was stuffed for a 1-yard gain.
In the first half, Cook had 13 attempts for 96 yards and had five runs for 10 yards or more plus a 9-yard gain. However, in the second half, after a 13-yard run on his first carry, Cook managed only 22 yards on his last eight attempts.
Hicks came up with the crucial pass defensed and the Vikings were forced to punt. To that point in the second half, Minnesota had a mere 69 yards on 20 plays.
It was time to finish, but it didn’t happen. With 2:45 remaining in the game, the Cardinals started from their own 39-yard line. Murray gained four yards on first down, but lost 10 on a second-down sack. A pass to running back Chase Edmonds got seven yards back, and the Vikings started from their own 23-yard line after an Andy Lee punt netted 37 yards. There was still 2:09 remaining, so not only did the Cardinals lose one yard on their final possession, but only 36 seconds came off the clock.
Suddenly, Cousins got Minnesota’s offense moving, completing 5 of 7 passes for 49 yards, including a 12-yarder to wide receiver Adam Thielen on third-and-10 from the Arizona 48-yard line. Two plays later, the Vikings set up for what they expected to be a game-winning field goal, but Greg Joseph pushed the kick just to the right and the Cardinals sideline exploded.
Williams said, “I think I ran and gave (tight ends coach) Steve Heider a hug. I just couldn’t believe it. And I’m gonna celebrate. It doesn’t matter how it happens. Just go out there and have fun and win games.”
The Cardinals have now done that twice in 2021, but they also started out 2-0 last season.
To achieve what they want, they know they can’t depend on missed kicks too often.