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After James Conner Injury, Emari Demercado Gets The Call

Rookie running back scores first NFL touchdown

Cardinals rookie running back Emari Demercado fights his way into the end zone for his first NFL touchdown during Sunday's game against the Bengals.
Cardinals rookie running back Emari Demercado fights his way into the end zone for his first NFL touchdown during Sunday's game against the Bengals.

With a little over ten minutes in the second quarter Sunday, running back James Conner bounced off of multiple defenders, pinball style, for an electric 35-yard run.

While it energized the crowd and eventually led to a Zach Ertz touchdown catch, it was the last of Conner's time in the game, one that turned into a 34-20 loss to the Bengals at State Farm Stadium.

Conner left with a knee injury, and while he returned to the sideline at one point with helmet on head apparently lobbying to return, the Cardinals were without the NFL's third-leading rusher.

"Obviously, when you lose one of your best players that hurts, but we have to carry the load for him," coach Jonathan Gannon said, adding that Conner was "feeling OK" after possibly tweaking the knee when his foot stuck in the ground.

Keaontay Ingram is Conner's backup, but he was inactive on Sunday with a neck injury. The next man up was backup rookie tailback Emari Demercado. Demercado rushed for 45 yards on 10 attempts and picked up his first career touchdown.

On New Year's Eve, as a member of the TCU Horned Frogs, Demercado was able to get into the State Farm Stadium end zone in the national semifinal; 281 days later, he was able to do it again, but as a member of the Cardinals.

"It was definitely a surreal moment, something you worked for your whole life, and you finally get there and to experience that, so it was a great moment," Demercado said. "But like I said, you win as a team and you lose as a team, and obviously you want to get that W."

The offense struggled with Conner's absence. The only other offensive score after Conner went out was Demercado's.

Quarterback Joshua Dobbs recognized that losing Conner was a challenge for the team, but Demercado executed his responsibility within the offense.

"He stepped up well, in that aspect of picking up the running game," Dobbs said. "I know he's been emphasized in the pass game a little more thus far, but that was huge to see him come in and step in."

"When you lose James that's tough, but I thought, again, the response by Emari to step in and take on a bigger role and not flinch was really good."

Offensive lineman Will Hernandez noted that the running scheme remained the same.

"At the end of the day, yards are yards," Hernandez said. "We're still getting it, whoever is running the ball out there and (Emari) did a great job for us. That's the name of the game."

Demercado agreed that the scheme didn't change once Conner was no longer in the backfield, but the type of runner did.

"I think we have all that skillset," Demercado said. "Maybe James is more of a downhill runner as a bigger guy, but I think we can handle the same things. We don't have to switch the scheme up."

At any given moment, Demercado could be called on. He views each opportunity as a next game, next man up, next play mentality, something he learned in college.

On Monday the focus will be on reviewing the tape and the attention will shift to the Rams. But Sunday's performance is something Demercado feels he could build on.

"I feel comfortable out there playing and obviously I wish we came out with the win, but it's still a long season to go, so we just got to keep stacking days," Demercado said. "I just got to go into this week, prepare how I always do."

"If they call my number, I'll be ready. If not, I'll play my role as best I can."