Where are the Cardinals now, mentally? Sunday's loss to the Steelers was more like how they had played all season and not the clunker against the Rams. But it was still a loss, with too many mistakes to overcome.
"We have a team full of fighters," linebacker and special-teamer Dennis Gardeck said. "I think part of being a pro is not giving in to that emotion, feeling bad about a loss, or honestly feeling good about a win."
I think the Cardinals would like at least the chance to feel good about a win – it's been a minute since the rainy road trip to New York. Being close isn't enough, and everyone knows it.
"Besides last week, we've been in every one of them, and that kind of wears on you, kind of takes its toll," center A.Q. Shipley said.
The Steelers are playing good defense, they force turnovers. They are playing better overall than the Browns, who visit in the final Cardinals' home game in a week. But the Cardinals can't put themselves in a hole – it was 10-0 in the first quarter Sunday, although the Cards did rally to tie it at 10 – and they definitely can't turn it over. The one consistent thing Kyler Murray had done this season is take care of the ball, and that wasn't there against the Steelers.
-- I'm not sure if you can declare it a comeback for David Johnson after five touches. But he made them count, rushing for 19 yards on three carries and getting a 24-yard touchdown among his two receptions. He seemed to run well when given the chance. The Cardinals were at their best offensively Sunday when Johnson and Kenyan Drake were used in tandem.
-- The third running back, Chase Edmonds, wasn't used offensively much – he dropped a pass when the Cards used all three backs on a play – but he was the star of a fake punt. Edmonds tight-roped the sideline on a nine-yard carry on fourth-and-8, a gutsy call in itself given that Murray had just lost seven yards on a run on third-and-1.
-- Clearly, the Cardinals won the fake punt battle. The Steelers' fake punt allowed the Cardinals to get back in the game, after Pittsburgh punter Jordan Berry didn't hear his fake called off and tried to run through both Gardeck and tight end Darrell Daniels.
"Honestly my eyes were on 33 (running back Trey Edmonds) because I knew they were going to cut (block) me all game and he cut me, and I looked up and the punter just kind of ran right into me," Gardeck said. "I don't know much about running the ball, but usually you try and run away from defenders."
-- Chandler Jones notches his 14th sack, and his sixth strip-sack of the season. The Cardinals couldn't recover (and the Steelers got a field goal at the end of the half) but the veteran linebacker truly has made that ball swat an art form.
-- Interesting to see so much Mason Cole. First, with J.R. Sweezy dealing with an ankle issue, Cole and Sweezy rotated much of the game at right guard. But Cole was also split out wide to the right as a receiver at one point, allowing the Cardinals to continue in playing up-tempo without having to wait for the Steelers to substitute. It worked, with a screen to Larry Fitzgerald to the left picking up nine yards (although I'm sure Cole would've loved a target.)
-- The Cardinals gave up one catch to a tight end, for three yards. (Vance McDonald did leave with a concussion.) That was good. QB Duck Hodges outrushing Murray, 34-2, and also scrambling before making a couple of big throws, was something the Cardinals couldn't afford.
-- Linebacker Tanner Vallejo was a guy the Cardinals were very much interested in keeping at the end of preseason, but numbers ended up dictating his release. He played well defensively Sunday, filling in at inside linebacker behind Joe Walker now that Haason Reddick is on the outside.
-- It was a big first drive for linebacker Jordan Hicks, who was called for roughness on a ballcarrier at the end of a play and later drilled running back Jaylen Samuels after a catch, sending Samuels' helmet flying.
-- Murray will figure it out. The veteran Joe Haden got him on that first pick. He's got to run for the first down on the other pick, but he knows that (and it'll be driven home as soon as he watches the video.) That last drive was … ugly. But that too, I believe, will improve sooner rather than later.
Three games left.