Perhaps it shouldn’t have been this difficult, but the Arizona Cardinals found a way to let the Jacksonville Jaguars hang around Sunday, before scoring three touchdowns in a span of 9:32 in the third and fourth quarter to send the Jaguars to their third consecutive loss, 31-19.
The Cardinals improved to 3-0 for the first time since 2015, but they will have to be a lot better going forward, especially with the three-game juggernaut that awaits them: at the Los Angeles Rams, home against San Francisco and finishing on the road at Cleveland.
As head coach Kliff Kingsbury said, "I was glad to get out of here with a win. I thought that team really played hard, played spirited and it was a heck of a ballgame."
Aside from quarterback Kyler Murray, who passed for 209 yards in the second half and ended up with 316 for the game (but who had another inexplicable interception), the heroes for the Cardinals were wide receivers Christian Kirk, A.J. Green, and running back James Conner. The number of weapons available makes it a challenge for opposing defenses.
After taking a 7-0 lead, but coming up empty on numerous third downs (they were 1-for-9 in the game), including failures from one yard (twice), two and four, the Cardinals were stunned by a game-tying drive and a 109-yard field-goal return when no one could tackle Jamal Agnew after a just short 68-yard field-goal attempt by Matt Prater on the penultimate snap of the first half.
Josh Lambo missed the first of two extra points for a 13-7 Jaguars lead at halftime. When Murray was intercepted on the first possession of the second half, there was a foreboding feeling especially after Jacksonville and running back James steam-rolled down the field on an eight-play, 75-yard touchdown drive for a 19-13 lead following a 34-yard Prater field goal.
Jaguars running back James Robinson had eight yards on seven attempts in the first half, but rumbled for 66 yards on six carries on the scoring drive, including a 4-yard touchdown. He had runs of 17, 8, 10 and 21 yards.
Playing with a patchwork offensive line, the Cardinals faced serious adversity trailing with 3:33 remaining in the third quarter.
With right tackle Kelvin Beachum inactive, rather than have Justin Murray play there, the Cardinals opted to slide Josh Jones to right tackle and put Murray at right guard. Murray left the game in the first half with a back injury and was replaced by Max Garcia.
Then, after left guard Justin Pugh injured his back on the field-goal return touchdown, Sean Harlow replaced him in the second half. Harlow was signed off the practice squad Saturday, but did play significant snaps in the preseason when Pugh was on the COVID-19 list.
It was time for the Kirk and Conner show after running back Chase Edmonds gained nine yards on a first-down pass. Murray hit Kirk for 18 yards, Conner ran for 11 and it was Kirk again for 33 to the 4-yard line. Conner scored on the next play.
It was a five-play, 75-yard drive that took 2:12 off the clock. Then, on second down for Jacksonville's ensuing drive, Cardinals defensive back Byron Murphy jumped the pass attempt by quarterback Trevor Lawrence and 29 yards later was in the end zone to give the Cardinals the lead for the first time since the score was 7-0.
One turning point came on Jacksonville’s next third down. Lawrence connected with Marvin Jones Jr. for a first down, but tight end Chris Manhertz was flagged for offensive pass interference. The Cardinals got the ball back after a failed third-and-16 play and then not only drove for a two-score lead in 11 plays and 65 yards, but also took 6:52 off the clock.
Green’s big play came on third-and-9 from the Cardinals 49-yard line. Well-covered, the 6-foot-4 Green went up to corral Murray’s pass for a 36-yard play to the 15-yard line on what was the Cardinals’ only third-down conversion of the game.
Said Kingsbury said, "Our third-down plan wasn't very good. I think we started 0-for-6, had a couple of third-and-ones there early that I'd like to have back and then get the one where we thought we had a big play and it gets called back and now you're in third-and-20 (actually third-and-13) on the offensive PI (pass interference), so I just thought it was disjointed. We got to be better on third down."
Two plays later, it was third-and-8 and a pass to Edmonds made it fourth-and-1. Rather than settle for a field goal and an eight-point lead, head coach Kliff Kingsbury went for the kill. Murray ran two yards for the first down at the 4, Rondale Moore ran inside the 1 and Conner scored his second touchdown of the game with 6:49 remaining.
The pesky Jaguars drove to the Arizona 24-yard line, but on second-and-11, Lawrence’s arm appeared to hit the shoulder of Robinson, who was moving to pick up a blitz. The ball came loose and linebacker Chandler Jones recovered the fumble.
After gaining only 155 yards in the first half, the Cardinals totaled 252 in the final two quarters.
Kingsbury said, "I thought Sean Harlow and Max Garcia stepped in and played at a really high level in the second half. We got it rolling offensively and they were a big part of it."
Green finished with five receptions for 112 yards with 4-for-102 in the second half, while Kirk was 5-for-67 in the second half to total 104 yards on seven catches in the game.
Overall, it wasn’t pretty, but then, NFL games usually aren’t. In a league where the Ravens won by two over Detroit, the Chiefs lost to the Chargers to fall to 1-2 and the Bengals defeated the Steelers in the early window, the Cardinals will gladly accept another W, while knowing things will become even tougher beginning next week in California.
"We got to improve quickly because next week we start division play," Kingsbury said. "Play the L.A. Rams who are as good as anybody in the league and they got it rolling, so we know we got to take a big step. We can't have the same type of mistakes we had today."