By Matt Thorpe – Arizona Cardinals Writer
The Arizona Cardinals squandered a big opportunity to record their first win of the season as they were beaten convincingly by the Carolina Panthers last night. The return of Kyle Allen, under centre instead of the injured Cam Newton, to his home state was a victorious one as sloppy defending and the great tight end battle of 2019 cost the Cards.
It was a promising start by Kliff Kingsbury’s men: Allen’s first drive of 2019 looked as though it would result in an early score, as he connected with Christian McCaffrey and Greg Olsen to move the chains. But Chandler Jones forced the first turnover of the game, ripping the ball out of Allen’s grasp and recovering it on Arizona’s 25-yard line.
The Cardinals’ opening drive went as good as could be hoped as Kyler Murray showed early signs of confidence. Three scrambles by the No1 draft pick for 28 yards and a 15-yard run by David Johnson set the Cards up in great field position. They were ranked second from last in the league in red zone conversions but made no mistake this week – Murray throwing a one-yard pass to the future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald for six. A strong start by the home side.
That strong opening drive by the offense was not matched on the other side of the ball as the Panthers responded immediately. Allen made up for the turnover by completing 11 plays up the field for 60 yards, an extra 15 coming from a horse-collar tackle by previous drive hero Jones. Allen, who was making his return to his home state, evaded the pass rush and incoming sack by Terrell Suggs on play 11 to reach a wide-open Curtis Samuel in the corner.
The second quarter began with the sides exchanging punts before the Cardinals took the lead through a Zane Gonzalez field goal having failed to exploit the good field position given to them by Panthers corner Tre Boston being called for a face mask on Chase Edmunds. Allen would punish Arizona’s lack of execution in the red zone with his second touchdown pass of the night with the biggest play of the night. A sumptuous deep pass up the middle for 52 yards into the hands of DJ Moore who strutted in the end zone to give the visitors the lead going in to half time.
Arizona needed a sharp response coming out of the break and they got that. Murray out of the shotgun launching a 20-yard completion to second-year receiver Christian Kirk, which was then followed by 23-yard pass down the middle to Fitzgerald to put Arizona in Panthers territory. Another pass to Kirk for 13 yards with Murray evading the blitz from Luke Keuchly meant that another half’s opening drive resulted in the home side being in the red zone. Another opportunity at six and an opportunity graciously accepted by former fantasy saviour David Johnson – a 3-yard pass off the no huddle to restore the lead for the Cards, 17-14.
But this was the only real triumphant moment celebrated by the home crowd at State Farm, an audience that sadly dwindled out as the game petered on.
Allen’s first drive of the second half was an exploitation of the Cardinals key weakness this season – covering tight ends. An early short pass for 20 yards to Olsen and then a deep pass down the left to Jarius Wright resulted in a goal and go from the six-yard line. Allen to Olsen and the Panthers were back on top, 21-17. They would not fall behind again.
Arizona responded with another Gonzalez field goal, as the kicker maintained his 100 per cent record this yea, but it was the second big play of the night for the Panthers that would take the game away from Arizona: an explosive 76-yard rush by McCaffrey made it a two-score game. Arizona found themselves chasing the game but ultimately couldn’t find the formula for the touchdown they craved. A deep pass intended for Fitzgerald, again off the no huddle, was duly collected by Donte Jackson, a killer interception and the play to kill the game.
It was all too simple from there. Allen finding Olsen again who ran up 75 receiving yards in the game, with Arizona keeping a tight end under 100 yards for the first time this season.
A brilliant day for Allen, he finds himself amongst the starting quarterback discussion after a four-touchdown performance. Less can be said for Kyler who suffered a torrid time in that second half – throwing two interceptions and taking eight sacks. 173 yards thrown from 30 completions is something Kingsbury will look to eradicate next week, with short completions hurting the Cards’ offense.
Next up for the Cardinals is a visit from division rivals Seattle Seahawks who will be looking for retribution after losing at home to a Brees-less Saints, while the Panthers are on the road again at the Houston Texans. Remember guys – it’s a rebuilding season. Keep calm and carry on and all that.