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Cardinals Come Up Short In Washington In Gannon's Debut

Defense shines in 20-16 decision to Commanders

Linebacker Dennis Gardeck gets a strip-sack of Commanders quarterback Sam Howell during Sunday's game, leading to a Cardinals' touchdown on the fumble recovery by fellow linebacker Cameron Thomas.
Linebacker Dennis Gardeck gets a strip-sack of Commanders quarterback Sam Howell during Sunday's game, leading to a Cardinals' touchdown on the fumble recovery by fellow linebacker Cameron Thomas.

LANDOVER, Maryland – Zaven Collins saw a team that stuck together.

Defensively, the Cardinals played well enough to win their regular-season opener on Sunday at FedEx Field, a game that heartbreakingly dissolved in the fourth quarter to a 20-16 loss to the Washington Commanders. Offensively, they looked like they were piloted by a quarterback who had just arrived, like a team still waiting for the return of their franchise quarterback, and a team that will need such defensive performances as the season unfolds.

Quarterback Joshua Dobbs was the QB for Week 1, and while the Cardinals (0-1) had a gameplan that could've worked, the margin for error is small.

"Josh just got here, what, two weeks ago so yeah, you gotta know," Collins said. "We've got to go out and support them. You know (the offense) is trying to get better 24/7."

First-year coach Jonathan Gannon wasn't happy with the loss. Why would he be? But for a first step, it felt like a foundational game in many ways.

"There is going to be a lot of learning that goes on this week," Gannon said. "Their attitude was good, their attitude was good talking to them right now (in the locker room), and they know that's what NFL games come down to – a couple plays here and there."

The "couple plays" were both late, both fumbles by Dobbs. The first came when the Cardinals were seemingly in control of the game, a strip-sack late in the third quarter by Montez Sweat with the Cardinals holding a 16-10 lead.

The Commanders recovered at the Arizona 29 and Washington quarterback Sam Howell capped a short drive with a 6-yard touchdown scramble to lead to a 17-16 Commanders lead.

"We've got to hold them in the red zone," Collins said.

The other came from a botched center-quarterback exchange that the Commanders (1-0) jumped on for a short field that led to the clinching field goal. The Cardinals were unable to make a push for the touchdown they needed to retake the lead, after moving the ball at times earlier in the game.

"We left a lot of opportunities out there," said Dobbs, who was 21-of-30 but for only 133 yards. "You work so hard to get down there, you've got to get seven points, especially with the turnovers."

It spoiled an excellent game from defensive coordinator Nick Rallis, who had his relatively no-name unit all over Commanders quarterback Sam Howell, sacking him six times with five different players and generating three turnovers.

There were questions about the Cardinals outside linebacking crew, but Dennis Gardeck had two sacks – including a strip sack that resulted in a touchdown – while Collins had an interception and a fumble recovery, Victor Dimukeje had a sack and forced fumble, and Cameron Thomas had a pass defensed and that fumble-recovery TD.

The Commanders only had 248 yards, but the Cardinals only had 210 themselves. More painfully, the Cardinals had 122 yards in penalties, including 67 on an early 91-yard Washington "drive" that culminated in the Commanders' first touchdown.

"That falls on me," Gannon said. "We want to be violent, but we have to be smart."

The Cardinals now have two straight games at home against the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys, with a chance to upgrade their showing against a pair of 2022 playoff teams. Dobbs didn't take any solace in what was done well – "Not really. Disappointed in the loss" – but the reality is the more time he has on the field can only help.

"This should be the worst performance we have as an offense," tight end Zach Ertz said.

Given how so many forecasted how the Cardinals season could go, Gannon has clearly made strides in the direction of the team.

"No one was mad at each other," Collins said. "That's what we were happy about. No one was whining or moaning. Which is a good thing to see."