As the MLB playoffs advance to the World Series between the Atlanta Braves and Houston Astros, closing out games now becomes even more of an emphasis in each team's respective quest to capture a championship.
The Arizona Cardinals know a little about closing games out, effectively churning out clock and grinding tough yards in route to yet another victory, this time in 31-5 fashion over the Houston Texans to improve to 7-0.
For the second straight week, the Cardinals have effectively shut out their respective opponents in the second half, not allowing either the Texans or Cleveland Browns to sniff the scoreboard.
Arizona's offensive start to the game left a lot to be desired, as the Cardinals gained a net total of one yard and punted twice before a safety saw the Texans take a 2-0 lead. The Cardinals totaled only 13 yards in the first quarter, but then had 193 in the second quarter.
Quarterback Kyler Murray wasn't fazed by the slow start.
"I wasn’t too concerned. I don’t know why, maybe we came out a little lax. I can’t really speak on it. I just know we have to be better, faster. You’ll get beat if you come out too slow, sometimes you won’t be able to catch up. For us, I know we’re better than what we put out there today," said Murray following the game.
"We clicked for the most part during the middle of the game. Like I said, they got after us today. I don’t want to take anything away from them. We obviously won by a large lead, but for the most part offensively I think we can be a lot better.”
The Cardinals would go on to score on the following four possessions, three of which resulted in touchdowns to see Arizona go up 24-5 in the third quarter.
It was a lead that never felt within striking distance for the Texans, thanks in part to another strong performance in the second half from a stout Cardinals defense.
The Texans ran 26 plays in the second half, gaining just 58 yards in the final two quarters.
For the second consecutive week, the Cardinals defense forced two fourth-down stops in the final half. Arizona has now outscored opponents 96-40 in the second half this season, with just 17 points scored against them following halftime in the previous four games.
Now, the Cardinals turn their attention to a short week's worth of preparation when quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers visit town Thursday night.
In the NFL, great teams are able to control the clock and move the ball at will. The Cardinals displayed prominence in both of those areas, as the team possessed the ball for 18:35 in the second half of Sunday's win.
Arizona is the league's lone team at 7-0, and have shown a pristine ability to finish their work when called upon. Thanks to a large mix of talent, coaching and adjustments at halftime, the Cardinals tighten their grip on opponents down the stretch of games, making it increasingly harder to beat Arizona over the course of four quarters.