Let me be absolutely up front about this: the Cardinals were absolutely brutalized by the Falcons on Sunday. Any excuse you or I can offer will not cloud the fact that it was an ass-kicking of the highest degree.
That said, I'm not worried.
Now I know that to those of you familiar with my work, the idea that I'd not be frantically pounding the panic button after such a loss is a bit of a surprise, but hear me out. Losses happen -- even really bad losses happen -- but recovery is not tricky.
Since lists are kind of my jam, I'm going to break up the reasons I'm not worried into a three-pack.
(1) - The Game
I realize that it's hard to look at a 41-7 final and say that it wasn't so bad, so I won't insult your intelligence by trying. However, players and teams are human and these types of games can sometimes end up as an avalanche of points for the winning team because the losing team has break after break go against it before just folding up shop.
Does that mean players are front runners? Absolutely. Does this version of the Cardinals need to develop more toughness and resiliency? Of course.
No matter what way you try to slice it, the Cards did surrender 444 yards to Atlanta. But, this game was wrought with questionable calls that went the way of the Falcons.
Immediately after Atlanta shoved a quick TD down the throat of the Cardinals (aided by a 15-yard, away-from-the-ball, after-the-play penalty against Kerry Rhodes), LaRod Stephens-Howling returned a kick 98 yards for a touchdown. Unfortunately lead ref Jerome Boger and his brilliant crew called Darnell Dockett for a holding penalty. Where was Dockett on the play? A little place called the bench. Real sure of what you saw there, eh ref?
Some other favorites from the game:
- On the first play of the second quarter, Bryan Robinson sacked Matt Ryan back on the Cardinals 18 yard line. Yet Boger flew in and called a facemask penalty on Joey Porter ... who wasn't near the play.
- On the drive following the Cardinals cutting the Atlanta lead to 10-7, the Falcons were faced with a third and 13. Ryan threw in the direction of Roddy White, but Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie seemingly broke up the pass. However, what was almost certainly bang-bang contact resulted in a pass interference penalty. So instead of Arizona receiving a punt with the chance to take the lead, Atlanta drove down the field for another TD.
- On Atlanta's final drive, DRC was called for another pass interference penalty on a ball into the end zone that wasn't remotely catchable by Brian Finneran. One play later, Atlanta punched the ball in and was up 24-7.
Please don't mistake my intentions here: Even if every single one of the calls above went the Cardinals way, Atlanta probably still covers the sizable spread with room to spare (aka Falcons fans, you totally deserved to win and I won't pretend otherwise so don't get all mad at me). What I'm saying is that it just wasn't as bad as the final score would indicate.
(2) - The Schedule
Going into the season, the Cardinals schedule was ranked as the NFL's easiest. Nothing that happened Sunday changed that.
Even during that period of the offseason where I thought the Cardinals were headed for a 9-7 season (I shifted to 7-9 after all the QB-hijinx), I harbored no illusions that the first five games of the season were going to end up any better than 2-3 for our heroes.
A win against the Rams is in the books and a home date with Oakland should be a W, but I wasn't expecting anything against Atlanta and won't expect anything on the road in San Diego or at home against New Orleans.
Where the Cardinals need to make hay is in the rich creamy center of the schedule. Following their week six bye, the Cardinals schedule looks like this:
- @ Seattle
- v. Tampa Bay
- @ Minnesota
- v. Seattle
- @ Kansas City
- v. San Francisco
- v. St. Louis
- v. Denver
- @ Carolina
In that sizable nine-game stretch, the Cardinals play just one playoff team from a season ago (that happens to be 0-2 right now) and teams that posted a combined 2009 record of 54-90. Not exactly a murderers' row of super teams.
Plain and simple, there are eight winnable games in that lineup. Will they win all eight? Probably not, but 6-3 or 7-2 is not a wild and crazy suggestion.
(3) - Losing Big Is Not New
We've been down this road before, and while I realize that Kurt Warner isn't walking through that door (though he may be dancing through another door), Ken Whisenhunt teams have proved that blowout losses are not the end of the world.
In the first three seasons of the Whiz era, the Cardinals are 31-23 including playoff games. Of those 23 losses, the Cards have lost 11 times by 13 or more points, nine of which have occurred in the previous two seasons.
This team gets killed and gets killed a lot. It doesn't make for a delightful Sunday afternoon, but it just seems to happen a lot. If you're gonna lose, you might as well lose big. Right?
But what's been impressive about Whisenhunt's Cardinals has been the response to the blowout losses. Following those latest nine clobberings, Arizona has won their next game eight times, with the only loss coming in the snow game in New England (following a 35-14 loss to Minnesota).
Don't get me wrong, folks, there is a lot that needs to be fixed. The defense has to learn to stop ... something, Derek Anderson has to work harder on his accuracy while not throwing to the other team, and the team has to learn to keep their heads (ahem Kerry Rhodes).
But all those problems are completely and totally curable. This isn't a perfect team by any means, but it's not a lost cause and the team will have a strong margin for error since they play in the NFC West.
Take a tip from your pal Scott Howard and forget about this throttling and start thinking about playing the Raiders in six days. If we lose that one? Feel free to get some of that panic flowing -- I'll help you push the button.