The Evolution of the Cardinals and Saints Rivalry Since Cards Last Win in New Orleans

How far have these franchises come since the Cardinals last won in New Orleans?
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The Arizona Cardinals haven’t won a game in New Orleans since 1996, and the infrequency of games between these inter-conference foes creates a timeline that involves significant roster changes from one meeting to the next. I’ll analyze the circumstances of each game since ‘96, as well as the state of both franchises during that season, which will create a clear picture of how each team has progressed in that time. 

Week 4: September 22, 1996
Cardinals win 28-14

We start with the lone bright spot on this timeline of games: a win. RB LeShon Johnson rushed for a franchise record 214 yards in the game, and Arizona was down 7-6 at half. That is, until they reeled off 22 unanswered points and held on for a 28-14 victory. An injured Esiason was replaced by Kent Graham, who forgetablly went 11/25 for 165 yards and a TD. It was an improved year for the Cardinals, going from 4-12 to 7-9, but ultimately missing out on the playoffs for the fourteenth consecutive season. A 36 year old Boomer Esiason would throw for 2293 yards and 11 TDs and 14 INTs in only 8 full games started. The team’s pro bowlers included fullback Larry Centers, wide receiver Rob Moore, and Hall of Fame cornerback Aeneas Williams. The team finished 4th in the NFC East (yep the NFC East) in Esiason’s lone season with the team.

Meanwhile the Saints were on their way to one of the worst seasons in franchise history, going 3-13 that year. Their head coach, Jim Mora, was in the last of his 10 years with the team. His staff included Tight Ends coach Bruce Arians, a familiar face to Cardinals fans as one of the team’s best head coaches in franchise history. They were quarterbacked by Jim Everett for 15 of those games, who threw for 2797 yards, 12 TDs, and 16 INTs.

Week 15: December 6, 2007
Cardinals lose 31-24

The Cardinals lost their next meeting in New Orleans in a battle between NFL legends Kurt Warner and Drew Brees. Brees threw for 315 yards and two TDs, Warner threw for 233 yards 3 TDs and a pick, and Larry Fitzgerald caught a touchdown. Pro Bowlers from this team include WR Larry Fitzgerald and DT Darnell Dockett, two long-time Cardinals fan favorites. The Cardinals would finish that season 8-8, but were well on their way to success as Warner would eventually lead to them to a surprise Super Bowl run in the following season.

The Saints also missed the playoffs, finishing 7-9 and failing to qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2005. Their fortunes were changing as well, as the next meeting in the Superdome would be playoff game.

2009 NFC Divisional Playoffs: January 16, 2010
Cardinals lose 45-14

This game started out with a bang for Arizona, with Tim Hightower rushing for a 70 yard touchdown on the game’s opening drive. Unfortunately, it also ended with Kurt Warner injured in what turned out to be his final game in the NFL. The Saints rolled to an easy victory, with Brees throwing for 247 yards 3 TDs and no INTs. As many remember, the Saints would go on to win their first Super Bowl in franchise history, with the Cardinals left to begin another rebuild. 

Despite the disappointment, Warner helped to instill a culture change that indirectly led to a franchise’s best stretches from 2013-2017. It’s also worth noting that the Saints bountygate scandal left many wondering if the Saints intentionally injured Warner in that game, and ended his career. But Warner has been adamant in saying that the injury was inconsequential in his decision to retire. 

Kurt Warner hit

Week 3: September 22, 2013
Cardinals lose 31-7

This game mirrored the previous one in New Orleans, as the Cardinals scored the first touchdown of the game, only to get blown out the rest of the way. Carson Palmer struggled in his 3rd career game with the Cardinals, throwing for 187 yards no TDs and 2 INTs. The aforementioned Bruce Arians was also in his first year as a head coach in the NFL. Arians was on the opposite sideline the last time the Cardinals won a game in New Orleans, which puts a neat bow on the timeline and reflects how much has changed for both franchises in that time. Brees was prolific once again, tossing for 342 yards 3 TDs and 1 INT. Jimmy Graham had 134 yards and 2 TDs, bringing back memories of his time as an elite tight end in this league. 

The Cardinals would finish the year with an optimistic record of 10-6, despite missing the playoffs. The 11-5 New Orleans Saints, on the other hand, would finish 11-5 and were taken down by the Seahawks in the divisional round of the playoffs. The Cardinals Pro Bowlers included John Abraham, Patrick Peterson, and Justin Bethel on special teams. The Saints Pro Bowlers included Drew Brees, Cam Jordan, Jahri Evans, and Jimmy Graham, with the latter two making the All-Pro team.

Week 8: October 27 2019
Cardinals lose 31-9

All of this brings us to today, where both teams have enjoyed success that is exponentially better than it was in 1996. New Orleans has produced one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history and a Super Bowl win in that time, and have been one of the better teams in the NFC for years with Brees and head coach Sean Payton at the helm. For the second straight game in New Orleans the Cardinals allowed 31 points, this time with their offense being held to 3 field goals. It was a frustrating game that combined poor execution by Arizona with the elite game planning and unflinching talent of New Orleans. 

Despite the loss, Kyler Murray didn’t commit a turnover for the fourth consecutive week and showed off some of his trademark escapability in the pocket. While it would’ve been fun to watch a victory, it was a difficult situation for a young QB and coach to come into against one of the league’s premiere teams. The Cardinals now sit at 3-4-1 with the scorching hot 6-0 49ers on deck. It’s hard to find silver linings in blowout losses, but if there’s one thing that Cardinals fans can take from this one it’s that for the first time since 1996, they won’t have to wonder if their QB will retire before getting a chance to win a game in the Superdome again.