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After Promising First Half Of Season, Cardinals Excited About Stretch Run

Despite loss to Miami, team in thick of playoff race for first time in years

Safety Jalen Thompson is a key piece back from injury as the defense aims to get healthier down the stretch.
Safety Jalen Thompson is a key piece back from injury as the defense aims to get healthier down the stretch.

The Cardinals were angry they let one slip away against the Dolphins on Sunday.

Despite being outgained by 130 yards, Miami used a defensive touchdown and a huge advantage in the kicking game to squeak out a 34-31 victory, dropping the Cardinals to 5-3.

While frustration ran rampant in the home locker room afterward, doubt did not accompany it.

"There is no panic," coach Kliff Kingsbury said. "There is no sky-is-falling mentality from this group. They understand there is a lot of football left to play, and the most meaningful games are in front of us."

After several consecutive seasons of second-half irrelevance, the Cardinals enter the stretch run of 2020 in the thick of the playoff race.

While a pair of three-point losses have kept them from a dazzling record, the Cardinals currently boast the best point-differential in the NFC at plus-54 and have an offense on the precipice of greatness behind star quarterback Kyler Murray.

"We're at the halfway point, and we're not close to what we think we can be," Kingsbury said. "That's exciting for us as coaches. We've had some moments of brilliance, if you will. We've had some moments we'd like to have back. That's natural for the midway point. What matters is what we do forward."

Murray had a phenomenal statistical performance against a Dolphins team that entered as the NFL's No. 1 scoring defense. He threw for 283 yards and three touchdowns at 10.9 yards per attempt while adding 106 rushing yards and a score at 9.6 yards per carry.

Murray is No. 8 in the NFL in rushing yards this season (543) and is atop the leaderboard in yards per carry (7.1). His passing has improved noticeably in the past month, with a yards per attempt figure of 8.97 and a passer rating of 111.7.

"I do think since about the first month, when he's settled in, that he's really upped his game," Kingsbury said. "His preparation, his consistency at the facility has been great, and I couldn't be more impressed with how he's handled everything in a unique year. I'm excited to see how the second half of the season plays out for him, because he's playing with a lot of confidence."

The Cardinals are eighth in the NFL in scoring defense, but there is more concern on that side of the ball. The Dolphins had a good offensive performance on Sunday despite Tua Tagovailoa making only his second career start, and there are questions about the caliber of opponent the group has faced.

The defense was without cornerback Byron Murphy, outside linebacker Devon Kennard and cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick against Miami, which was compounded by the in-game losses of cornerback Kevin Peterson (concussion) and defensive tackle Jordan Phillips (hamstring).

Kingsbury said Kirkpatrick is still day-to-day with a thigh injury, but he is hopeful Murphy and Kennard can clear COVID-19 protocols and return to the field on Sunday against the Bills.

"Getting some healthy bodies back defensively will definitely help in this stretch run," Kingsbury said.

Running back Chase Edmonds is in his third NFL season, but this is the first time he will be playing meaningful games in November and December. The same can be said for many of the team's key youngsters who have dealt with more losses than wins to begin their careers.

"Being a sports fan, I remember being on the couch and watching these playoff-race games," Edmonds said in his “On The Fly” interview with Lisa Matthews last week. "They're much more intense and they're much more important. It's exciting times."

The Cardinals are still just a game behind the Seahawks for first place in the NFC West and currently hold the head-to-head tiebreaker. On the flip-side, a playoff spot is far from assured, and they have a pair of tough games looming against Buffalo and Seattle.

The first half of the season proved there was potential lurking within the Cardinals, and the second half will show if it amounts to something substantial.

"Obviously you'd love to be undefeated – so would every other team – but that's not where we're at," Kingsbury said. "But I do think we're in a position where we can control our own destiny from here on out. At the midway point, that's about all you can ask for."

CARDINALS RELEASE BAUSBY

Cornerback De'Vante Bausby was released on Monday. He played 15 snaps against the Dolphins after Peterson suffered his concussion. Bausby was signed on Oct. 30 after getting cut by the Broncos.

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