Kliff Kingsbury wasn’t even watching. Kyler Murray was mentally readying himself to drive the offense for game-winning points at the end of the game for a second straight week. Tight end Maxx Williams was busy with his own “crap” he needed to do on the upcoming kickoff return.
Paying attention to the final extra point of Falcons kicker Matt Bryant Sunday wasn’t high on anyone’s to-do list.
“I was on the field and my job is not to look back to see if it was made,” said cornerback and extra-point edge rusher Kevin Peterson after the Cardinals beat Atlanta, 34-33, at State Farm Stadium thanks in part to Bryant’s miss. “I saw the kicker grab his head (in despair), and I was hype. I ran to the sideline, hyped for everybody.”
There was reason to be hyped. The Cardinals (2-3-1) won for the first time at home this season in four tries, and won back-to-back games for the first time since the end of the 2017 season. It was the first win in Arizona since beating San Francisco on Oct. 28 of last year.
And yes, Kingsbury’s crew was fortunate at times.
There was the missed extra point. There was Trent Sherfield’s 38-yard sideline catch early that might’ve been out-of-bounds, but the Cards managed to get off the next play before the Falcons could challenge. There was a 58-yard bomb to Damiere Byrd down to the Atlanta 1-yard line that was challenged as a fumble – “I thought it was a fumble,” Murray admitted – but was not overturned. There was Murray’s final 5-yard scamper on third-and-5 that was reviewed and might’ve been short – but that stood and allowed the Cardinals to kneel out the rest of the clock and the win.
“We had a couple things go our way,” wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said with a smile. “It was nice to finally have it bounce our way.”
The Cardinals didn’t win just because of some breaks. They also won because Kingsbury’s offense, with all of its “illusion of complexity,” is beginning to find itself, making life miserable for an already-struggling Falcons defense. They won because Murray continues to flash as something beyond his NFL-inexperienced years, with the rookie throwing for 340 yards, three touchdowns and no turnovers once again. They won because running back David Johnson was able to play through whatever back issues he might have and pulled in what turned out to be the game-winning touchdown catch.
(Game-winning, of course, since Cardinals kicker Zane Gonzalez was able to make his extra point.)
Of course, the Cards had built a 27-10 lead early in the third quarter, only to have it disappear behind Matt Ryan’s four touchdown passes – “That’s NFL football,” Kingsbury said – and the return Monday of cornerback Patrick Peterson can’t come fast enough.
Still, Chandler Jones and Terrell Suggs combined to take Ryan down for a sack in a tie game with seven minutes left, allowing Murray to drive the Cardinals for the go-ahead TD on the Johnson reception. The Cards went 3-for-4 in the red zone, and the one non-touchdown came at the end of the first half when, much like the previous week in Cincinnati, time ran out on the full playbook and Kingsbury took the field goal.
Even after the missed extra point -- “To miss that kick is no good for anybody,” Bryant said. “We’ve kind of dug ourselves a hole, and you don’t want it to end like that” – the Cardinals still needed a first down to seal the win. That was up to Murray too.
On the third-and-5, Murray had a pass/run option and when the pass wasn’t immediately there, he yelled at Williams to block for him. He ran out right in front of Kingsbury, but never extended the ball to the marker – making for an anxious minute or two on review.
“Looking at it now, I probably should’ve stuck the ball out,” said Murray, who admitted he was worried it would be called short on review. “But it’s a good learning lesson for me. I will make sure I get it next time.”
Kingsbury continues to say the offense isn’t playing as well as it ultimately will. He said he doesn’t have concern that the defense gave up two-score leads in each of the last two weeks against the Bengals and Falcons. The Cardinals are winning, but there are flaws that need work.
The Cardinals last won three straight games in a season back in 2015, when they took out the Vikings, Eagles and Packers in Weeks 14-16. If they can win in New York next week against the Giants, Kingsbury will have his first three-game winning streak.
The first two wins have been heart-pounding, but wins nonetheless.
“Football is a funny game,” Kingsbury said. “The breaks come in cycles. Hopefully we’re in that cycle.”
Images from the Week 6 matchup at State Farm Stadium