Even in a loss, Arizona Cardinals looked far prettier against Vikings than they did vs. Raiders

Bob McManaman
The Republic |
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MINNEAPOLIS – That was pretty, wasn’t it?

A week after being ridiculed for running a “pretty-boy offense” during a rather ugly preseason performance against the Raiders, Kyler Murray and the Cardinals’ offense glammed things up on Saturday and turned in a rather handsome first-half worth of work here against the Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium.

It was the last chance for Murray and the rest of the starters to feel good about themselves until the regular-season opener in another two weeks and their image repair – for the most part – looked marvelous, darling.

“I thought we started faster, I thought we were more physical, a little more crisp in our operation and (there were) fewer penalties,” coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “Those were all points of emphasis this week and I felt like we accomplished that in the first half.”

They may have lost on the scoreboard, 20-9, thanks to a pair of fourth-quarter Minnesota touchdowns when the third- and fourth-stringers were on the field, but the Cardinals’ first-team units felt like they won the first two quarters. And they did, taking a 9-7 lead into the locker room at halftime.

BOX SCORE: Vikings 20, Cardinals 9

“I felt good. I felt more comfortable,” Murray said. “That was probably the most comfortable I felt all preseason. But I think that’s just due to the reps, the live-game reps. For me, I enjoyed getting to play as much as we did today just because it was close to the real thing, so I was kind of happy with how it went.”

The Cardinals were a little perturbed at some of the shade that had been getting thrown on them following their 33-26 home loss to the Raiders. Oakland safety Lamarcus Joyner accused them of running a “pretty-boy offense” that some analysts and pundits contend won’t work in the NFL.

But it seemed to work just fine for all but the final two minutes and 42 seconds of the first half, which is when Brett Hundley and the second-team unit came on in relief.

Murray finished the afternoon 14-of-21 for 137 yards. He didn’t throw or run for any touchdowns, but he led the Cardinals on three scoring drives (Zane Gonzalez kicked field goals of 32, 38 and 47 yards). For the third time in three preseason games, Murray also didn’t turn the ball over, and on Saturday, he also wasn’t sacked.

‘That’s going to be huge,” Kingsbury said. “As a young player, you’re going to have turnovers. The way he plays the game, he’s going to try and make big plays, so those are going to come. But I think he’s done a nice job of knowing when the party’s over – throwing it away, going down – and so we’ve just got to make sure that continues.”

Playing in front of a crowd of 66,698, Murray completed passes to eight different targets with rookie KeeSean Johnson leading the way during first-unit play (four catches for 60 yards). Damiere Byrd, vying for one of the final spots among the wide receivers, caught two passes for 51 yards from Murray, including a 33-yard reception during the second series of the game that led to Gonzalez’ first field goal.

Overall, Johnson finished with seven receptions for 85 yards to lead all receivers in the game.

“The ball keeps coming his way and he’s making plays on it,” Kingsbury said.

Other positives involving the first-team units included a suitable showing by the offensive line in its first time fully together. Left guard Justin Pugh returned successfully from a shoulder issue and “he seemed to bring a little juice to that group,” according to Kingsbury.

“He saved my life a couple times today,” left tackle D.J. Humphries said.

Running back David Johnson (nine carries, 34 yards) had a couple nice runs, defensive starters batted down four of Arizona’s eight pass breakups, and with star cornerback Patrick Peterson sitting out in a coach’s decision, the cornerback trio of Tramaine Brock Sr., Chris Jones and rookie Byron Murphy held their own.

It will be hugely important for that to continue moving forward because Peterson will miss the first six weeks of the season due to his suspension and Arizona’s other starting corner, Robert Alford, is expected to miss at least eight weeks or longer because of a broken leg.

“We wanted to see what we have in the other guys,” Kingsbury said. “It’s always tough when you have one of the best cornerbacks in the game sitting over there watching, but we had a good plan going into training camp and we stuck to it.”

Everything wasn’t picture-perfect, of course. The first-team defense got sucked up into a Vikings’ power left run during Minnesota’s second possession of the game and Delvin Cook cut it back and ran 85 yards for a touchdown. Arizona’s starters gave up next to nothing after that, however.

Once again, the Cardinals also had some issues with false-start penalties involving hand clapping during their snap counts. This time, it was Hundley, and referee Walt Anderson flagged him twice near the end of the first half for simulating the start of the play before the ball was snapped.

“I’m still confused,” Hundley said. “I’m still trying to figure it out.”

Meanwhile, Saturday’s game may have been the last one Cardinals longtime receiver Larry Fitzgerald ever plays in his native hometown. Fitzgerald caught one pass – for a first down – and spent lots of time on the field afterward with family, friends and fans. Was this his last game ever in Minnesota?

“I don’t know. I don’t know,” said Fitzgerald, who turns 36 this Saturday. “We might be back in January, you never know.”

Have an opinion on the Arizona Cardinals? Reach McManaman at and follow him on Twitter @azbobbymac. Listen to him live every Wednesday afternoon at 1:30 on Fox Sports 910-AM on The Freaks with Kenny and Crash and every Wednesday afternoon at 4:30 on AM 1060/SB Nation Radio on Calling All Sports with Roc and Manuch.

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