TEMPE, Ariz. - The Cardinals have suddenly turned into a pretty good football team during the final few weeks of the regular season.
It’s a surge that’s come about a month too late for Arizona to be a factor in this year’s playoff race, but two straight wins over the Browns and Seahawks have provided hope that better times are ahead in 2020.
The Cardinals’ latest win, a 27-13 road victory over the playoff-bound Seahawks, was particularly impressive. Rookie quarterback Kyler Murray helped the team build an early lead before leaving with a hamstring injury in the third quarter. Backup quarterback Brett Hundley and a much-improved defense closed the deal.
“I’m proud of the guys for not giving up,” Murray said. “Obviously our record doesn’t show (our improvement), so it’d be easy for us to kind of lay down against a good team like the Seahawks, but we came up here into a hostile environment and got the win.”
Arizona’s been out of the playoff race for weeks after a six-game losing streak midway through the year. Even though the Cardinals (5-9-1) usually were outwardly stoic, it was obvious that frustration was building.
Two wins — over two teams that were fighting for playoff positioning — have drastically improved the outlook. Murray had an MRI on his sore right hamstring on Monday and his status is unclear for the season finale against the Rams. But regardless, the Cardinals have gained some much-needed momentum.
“We’re a totally different team,” cornerback Patrick Peterson said. “We’re finally starting to find that trust in one another. We’re starting to play with a different confidence level; guys understanding what they need to do in this defense to be successful.”
For once, the defense. That unit has been among the league’s worst throughout this season, particularly against the pass, but the Cardinals held Seattle’s Russell Wilson to 169 yards passing and one touchdown.
Linebacker Chandler Jones had another great game and so did safety Budda Baker. Both players were selected for the Pro Bowl earlier in the week.
“It’s Week 16, we’re not going to make the playoffs, and to see the guys playing with that level of effort and that type of enthusiasm is exciting to see,” coach Kliff Kingsbury said.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
If Murray can’t play against the Rams, the starting assignment will fall to Brett Hundley.
The 26-year-old completed 4 of 9 passes for 49 yards and also ran for 35 yards to help the Cardinals close out the win. Considering he hadn’t had any legitimate playing time in about two years, he wasn’t bad. But he’ll probably need to be better if Arizona is going to beat the Rams.
It would be Hundley’s first start since 2017, when he started nine games for the Green Bay Packers when Aaron Rodgers was injured. He had a 3-6 record in those games.
Jones had six tackles, four sacks, two tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and a career-high six quarterback hits in the win over the Seahawks. He leads the NFL with 19 sacks and eight forced fumbles.
“If we had a better record he would be in that conversation for defensive player of the year,” Kingsbury said. “He should be, he’s phenomenal. Anytime it’s a one on one, there’s a good chance he is going to get home. He is a tough matchup for anybody.”
WR Christian Kirk. The past five games have been slightly disappointing for the second-year player, who caught six balls for 138 yards and three touchdowns in Week 10 against the Buccaneers. Since then, he’s caught just 21 total passes and hasn’t found the end zone. He had no catches against the Seahawks.
Murray’s hamstring is obviously the big concern. Kingsbury said the quarterback was “day to day” and that the Cardinals wouldn’t play him if he wasn’t 100 percent.
8 — Arizona has eight wins at Seattle’s CenturyLink Field, which is easily the most for any opposing team since the venue opened in 2002. The Cardinals have a 5-2 record in Seattle since 2013 and have won four of their last five.
The Cardinals’ final game is on the road against the Rams, who won’t make the playoffs after advancing to the Super Bowl last season. If Murray doesn’t play, the task is obviously more difficult, but a three-game winning streak to end the season would give the franchise six wins, which would double its win total from 2018.