DeAndre Hopkins' wild TD grab saves Cardinals in last-minute win over Bills
GLENDALE, Ariz. – Before the Cardinals officially kicked off the second half of their season on Sunday against the visiting Buffalo Bills, cornerback Patrick Peterson had a message to share and whether he intended it or not, he made it on behalf of the entire team.
“Every game is a playoff game, especially in the second half of the season,” Peterson said Thursday during a Zoom conference call with local reporters. “This is the part of the season where you start to separate the contenders and the pretenders. We want to be a contender.
“Every game counts now. We’ve got an eight-game season and no game after that is promised to us. These next eight games, we’ve got to play balls to the wall. We can’t hold nothing back and have to leave it all on the field.”
It wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t always pretty, but the Cardinals wound up turning it into a storybook ending when Kyler Murray wound up his right arm and fired a 43-yard pass to DeAndre Hopkins on a last-chance gasp and Hopkins came down with it for the game-winning touchdown in a 30-28 instant classic.
Hopkins was surrounded by three Buffalo defenders in the end zone, but he leapt high into the air with two outstretched arms, got both hands on the ball, and brought it back down as his teammates swarmed him in wild jubilation.
“Disbelief was the emotion,” Cardinals linebacker Jordan Hicks said when asked what he was feeling on Hopkins’ stunning catch to win it. “That dude is one of a kind. Throw the ball up to Hop, let him go work. That’s it.”
With only two seconds remaining after the touchdown, the Cardinals smartly decided to take a knee on a two-point conversion attempt so as to not take any chance of the point-after getting blocked and possibly returned for a score.
“Just getting the pass off was incredible,” Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “If you watch the replay, I mean, he’s running and dodging and ducking, and I didn’t think he’d get it off. And then to put that type of loft on it and give him a chance, from my vantage point, I couldn’t see much, but I saw the crowd go crazy and just kept asking our guys, ‘Did he catch it?’ And they were going nuts up top (in the press box).”
It’s only fitting that this game came down to a star play by a star wide receiver. After all, just 32 seconds earlier, the Bills thought they were going to win it on Stefon Diggs’ 21-yard touchdown reception, which gave Buffalo (7-3) a 30-26 lead. It was the second touchdown pass of the game by the Bills’ Josh Allen, who threw for 284 yards and also ran for a score.
Allen was also intercepted twice, once by Peterson and once by fellow cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick.
Diggs’ touchdown looked insurmountable. But with 34 seconds remaining in regulation, Murray hit Andy Isabella for a 14-yard completion. Then it was a 9-yarder to Hopkins and another 9-yarder to Larry Fitzgerald. Then, with no timeouts left and Murray knowing he needed to go deep for the Cardinals to have any chance at all of a miracle finish, he got forced to his left and before going out of bounds, launched a ball high and deep to the only Cardinals’ receiver in the end zone.
“It’s funny, everybody, all they saw was black gloves rising from everybody. It was a group of four people and all we saw was black gloves,” Murray said, adding of bouncing back from last week’s loss to Miami with such a win, “It's huge. I don't know how I would have felt had we lost this game because I feel like we had a lot of opportunities to pull away before even getting to that situation. I'm glad we fought and kept fighting."
Touchdown, followed by pandemonium and now, a share of first place in the NFC West with the Rams (6-3) and Seahawks (6-3), although Arizona (6-3) has the edge over Seattle by virtue of a tiebreaker, having beaten the Seahawks three weeks ago.
Hopkins, who is well on his way to his fourth straight first-team All-Pro season, has made dozens upon dozens of spectacular catches during his eight NFL seasons. He’s made several already this season, his first with the Cardinals.
Where does this one rank in his mind?
“This one is No.1,” said Hopkins, who finished with seven catches for 127 yards. “It was the winning game (catch), no question, against a playoff opponent.”
Trailing by 14 points with just under 10 minutes remaining in the third quarter, the Cardinals roared back with 17 unanswered points to take their first lead of the game.
Murray, who would finish with 245 passing yards and one touchdown and 61 rushing yards on 11 carries, started the comeback with his first of two rushing touchdowns sandwiched between a 45-yard field goal by Zane Gonzalez.
His 15-yard scamper on another fake inside handoff gave the Cardinals a 26-23 lead with eight seconds left in the third quarter. Buffalo would retake the lead on Diggs’ touchdown, but Murray’s bomb to Hopkins sealed the deal.
The outcome could have been a lot different if the Cardinals could have better capitalized on three drives in the first half that all featured at least 10 plays or more. Instead of settling for three Gonzalez field goals, three touchdowns would have completed altered things.
As it were, Arizona got down to the Buffalo 5-yard line on its opening possession but took a 23-yard field goal after a 13-play, 75-yard drive. It happened again in the second quarter, when the Cardinals went 10 plays and 51 yards but couldn’t convert a third and 5 and got a 42-yard field goal from Gonzalez.
The last one, though, hurt the most.
The Bills were up 13-6 after Bass’ 55-yard field goal with 5:45 remaining in the first half and what the Cardinals needed most was a touchdown to tie the score and really flip the momentum. It looked like they were on their way there, too, thanks to a gutsy decision by Kingsbury to go for it on fourth and 5 from the Buffalo 48 and an ensuing, 7-yard completion from Murray to tight end Dan Arnold.
Later in the driver, Arizona met another critical situation when on third and 13 from the 21, Murray kept the ball and sprinted to his left down the sideline, reaching out to get the first down on a 13-yard scamper. Two short pass attempts by Murray on second and third down, however, were batted away by Bills’ defenders and Kingsbury chose to kick the field goal.
Gonzalez’ 21-yarder, though, was almost like a let down considering the Cardinals had driven 72 yards on an exhausting 16-play drive. Making matters worse, Arizona botched things on a timeout call that resulted in a penalty and left too much time on the clock for the Bills to pad their lead, which they did with a field goal of their own.
Now, the Cardinals must turn around on short rest and travel to Seattle to play the Seahawks on Thursday night. It won’t be an easy task, but thanks to Sunday’s improbable outcome, it won’t be as difficult as it would have with a loss. Especially if things had gone into overtime, which is where it seemed to be heading.
“If overtime would have been what it took, then that’s what we were going to do,” Kingsbury said. “I could tell our guys believed. We knew we let some opportunities slip to put those guys away, but you’ve got to give them credit. They’re a good team, they play hard, and the believe in themselves as well.”
As far as first place goes?
“It doesn’t mean anything on Nov. 15,” Kingsbury said.
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