Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald makes a diving 19-yard reception during the Cardinals' 19-13 loss to the Bengals Sunday night.
It wasn't the "dress rehearsal" the Cardinals really wanted, and that showed up early when the Bengals left wide receiver Michael Floyd uncovered some 35 yards down the field and quarterback Carson Palmer overthrew him.
When Sunday night's 19-13 preseason loss to Cincinnati was over, the box score did not look pleasing. The Cardinals came out of it with no serious injuries, however, and that may be the most important part of this time of year anyway.
The other stuff? After a pair of preseason games in which the starters had played pretty well, concern was minimal.
"We had a number of things that were just off," said Palmer, who also had an ugly-looking interception returned for a touchdown on a route mistake by wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. "That's not what we wanted to do, that's not what we expected at all. We expected to come out firing just like we were the last couple of weeks
"There were some good things that happened, just not enough good things."
It will be many of the starters' finale in the preseason. The Cardinals (1-2) must turn around and play in San Diego Thursday night and coach Bruce Arians said many who played Sunday night will not play against the Chargers.
Someone will have to play though – there are still 13 players who must be cut by Tuesday, and the Cardinals will have a roster of 75 to play this week. The team will be on the practice field by early Monday afternoon.
That will be after the team watches the video and see what was good, and what was not.
The defense did not give up a touchdown and the starters were excellent defending the run. The running game, thanks to Andre Ellington getting the most (and likely the last) work of the preseason, looked healthy. Ellington had 46 yards on nine carries. Palmer's pass protection was good as well in a nice night for the offensive line.
The focus zeroed in on Palmer and the passing game, especially after the Floyd miss and the pick-6. That is natural, but Arians was not down on his veteran quarterback in the least.
"If it had been all three games, then yeah, you point a finger at it," Arians said. "You have to go back on film and see what really happened. But we had been playing at a fast, crisp pace."
Added Arians, "it's not all Carson."
Fitzgerald's game was a microcosm of the issues. He had a spectacular diving one-handed grab for 19 yards and a 43-yard gain after he took a short pass and broke a tackle. But he and Arians both said Fitzgerald should have broken across the face of the defensive back on the interception instead of going behind him, and Palmer's throw instead went right to veteran cornerback
Terence Newman. The easy interception was taken back 54 yards for a touchdown.
"You can never hang your quarterback out to dry," Fitzgerald said. "I have to do a better job reading and recognizing the defenses and do what I am coached to do."
Palmer wouldn't call out Fitzgerald's mistake, calling it only a miscommunication. The veteran finished 7-of-19 for 92 yards and the one interception, hurt that he didn't connect with Floyd but victimized himself by a couple of dropped passes.
"It won't shake our confidence," Palmer said. "There are some things that happened that didn't look good that I'm actually glad they happened. We'll talk about them and iron them out and move on."
Life without Darnell Dockett went pretty well for the defensive starters. The rush defense looked effective as it did all last season as the NFL's top-ranked unit, holding the Bengals to only 2.7 yards a carry on 15 tries in the first half.
The big issue with the defense would have been the drive as the second quarter ended. The Bengals were pinned on their own 4-yard line but generated a march that ended with a 36-yard Mike Nugent field goal.
Arians is also worried about a lack of pass rush when just four men go after the passer. The Cardinals do not want to live just with the blitz.
"We did some things very well," defensive end Calais Campbell said. "It wasn't our best game. They drove the field a couple times when we had them backed up. We did do well against the run. Dress rehearsal though. This game is just a memory now."
The stars of the game ended up being backup quarterback Drew Stanton (10-for-13, 108 yards, TD, along with a 17-yard scramble) and wide receiver John Brown, who recovered from a slow start to make a spectacular diving catch of a 30-yard touchdown.
But as the Bengals had a handful of players carted off the field with injuries, the fact the Cards stayed healthy and optimistic means Sunday was mostly a success.
"This was a very good test for us to see where we stand," safety Tony Jefferson said. "I think once we figure out the small stuff, we'll be fine."
Images of the Cardinals' third preseason game against the Bengals