TEMPE – There was 2:35 left on the clock, and it was 4th and 15. It was the point in the game that resurrects fans from their seats.
In years past – and for much of this season – it was the point an opposing quarterback would drive right through the Arizona Cardinals’ leaky defense to a first down and game-winning march down the field. On the road and facing the New York Giants’ rookie of the year candidate Daniel Jones, that possibility seemed more than plausible.
Instead, Patrick Peterson came flying around the edge and launched himself into Jones for a strip-sack. The unsuspecting Jones was on the ground in just over three seconds, per Next Gen Stats.
Peterson, who returned Sunday after a six-game performance-enhancing drug suspension, wasn’t the only one making plays on Arizona’s defense. Chandler Jones terrorized New York’s rookie quarterback for a career-high four sacks and forced a fumble, and linebacker Jordan Hicks secured the first interception of the season for him and, notably, the Cardinals.
But Arizona coach Kliff Kingsbury said the key to the team’s improved defense was the return of its All-Pro defensive back.
“It helps to have one of the best corners to ever play the game back,” Kingsbury told reporters after the team’s third consecutive win.
On Monday, Kingsbury said just having Peterson on the field was a boost and allowed defensive coordinator Vance Joseph to call a wider range of plays.
“(Peterson) brought a lot of confidence, a lot of swagger,” he said. “The way he carries himself, he’s one of the best players in the league.”
But it wasn’t all about the defense. Sunday’s effort in MetLife Stadium was an all-three phases type of performance.
Along with three successful extra point attempts, kicker Zane Gonzalez booted two field goals despite rainy conditions. That puts him at 18 made field goals on the year, tied for the most in the NFL, and already six more than the team made all of last season.
Kyler Murray stood out, too. Murray threw for just 104 yards, well under his season average – Kingsbury said the rain all but washed away any hope of throwing the ball with regularity – but he managed the game exceptionally well. The rookie quarterback didn’t throw an interception, something he last did back in Week 4.
“To play his style of football, in this style of offense with as many times as we put the ball in his hands,” Kingsbury said, “to have as few turnovers as he has, that’s a credit to him and the way he’s playing the game.”
Through the first month of the season, Murray was sacked an NFL-high 20 times despite getting the ball out quicker than nearly any other quarterback. In the last three weeks, all wins perhaps not-so-coincidentally, he’s been sacked three times.
Obviously, the offensive line has to receive much of the credit for such a dramatic improvement, but Kingsbury said Murray’s quick feet and growing comfort within an NFL offense has been equally important.
“He’s very quick twitch, he can get out of a small area very quickly,” Kingsbury said. “He has a good feel for when to go down and when the party’s over.”
Of course, the breakout player for the Cardinals wasn’t Murray, but running back Chase Edmonds. The 2018 fourth-rounder had perhaps the best day of any running back in the NFL on Sunday as he stormed through the Giants’ front seven for 126 yards and three touchdowns.
Kingsbury, who has been consistent in his praise for Edmonds all season, said he knew the young runner was ready for a career day.
“He had that eye of the tiger, there’s no doubt,” Kingsbury said. “He had some extra juice, and even before the game I could tell with him bouncing around that he was going to have a day.”
Edmonds’ eruption came at the perfect time for the Cardinals, who may have a David Johnson problem. The star runner only managed one rush on the day as he battled an ankle injury.
“When we saw him out there in live action, it wasn’t clicking,” Kingsbury said.
Both he and fellow running back D.J. Foster are considered day to day, and the team will be working out veterans Jay Ajayi and Spencer Ware on Tuesday, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported.
But Edmonds, who was on the field for only 25 percent of Arizona’s snaps before Sunday, would be the back most likely to absorb Johnson’s touches if he were to miss time. Regardless of Johnson’s health, Kingsbury said Edmonds has earned an increased role.
“Chase and David are both great backs,” Kingsbury said. “They complement each other well and they’re both going to get the ball a bunch.”
The Cardinals may well need both next Sunday as they try to extend their three-game win streak on the road against the New Orleans Saints. Drew Brees or not, the 6-1 Saints present the toughest test of Arizona’s season.