Quarterback Carson Palmer and coach Bruce Arians try to figure out how to spark the offense during Sunday's 31-7 loss.
NEW ORLEANS – It just started so well, with a crisp, balanced, lengthy drive for a touchdown after the opening kickoff.
It was the kind of drive that quiets a crowd like the Mercedes-Benz Superdome noise, the kind that bolsters confidence, the kind that aids an aching collective heart like the one carried by the Cardinals after the father of nose tackle Dan Williams was tragically killed in a car accident driving to watch his son play the Saints.
But after that, "we didn't go anywhere at all," quarterback Carson Palmer said, and it doomed the Cardinals.
The 7-0 lead was long gone by the end, an eventual 31-7 loss to the Saints as the Cardinals (1-2) were left with significant disappointment before flying to Florida for the week.
"I thought we had some good stuff happening tonight and we did too many things to shoot ourselves in the foot," guard Daryn Colledge said. "You can't play football like that on the road.
You can't kill yourself."
After the Cardinals scored, the next eight possessions ended with a punt, with four of them three-and-outs, doubling the number the Cards had in their first two games combined. More painful was the fact the Cards got into New Orleans territory on four of the possessions, yet couldn't get any points.
Coach Bruce Arians said he warned his team about being too emotional early. He was disappointed in all three phases, but the Cards are going to struggle without more points.
"We are still a team that can run to the 50-yard line and kill ourselves," Arians said.
The defense eventually wore down too. Tackling remains a problem, but the Saints (3-0) only led, 14-7, at the half and the Cards got more pressure on the quarterback than either of the first two games. Darnell Dockett broke loose for three sacks – doubling his total from all of last season – and the Saints couldn't run the ball most of the game.
Eventually, though, the Saints figured out the Cardinals did not have an answer for tight end Jimmy Graham, who exploited that problem with nine catches (on 15 targets) for 134 yards and two touchdowns. And for as well as the run defense had been playing, they couldn't stop Brees from scrambling, including a seven-yard score early in the fourth quarter that put the game away.
Brees ran for 21 yards on six carries – and he was Brees-like in his passing, completing 29-of-46 for 342 yards and three touchdowns, harmed only by an end zone interception by rookie safety Tyrann Mathieu.
"We did pretty well for two-and-a-half quarters," said cornerback Patrick Peterson, beaten for Graham's final touchdown. "We didn't finish out the game."
That, Palmer said, was partly on the offense's shoulders.
"(The defense) gave us some momentum," Palmer said. "We just didn't give them enough to feed off of, to give them something to keep fighting for."
Injuries also hurt. Arians had no details yet, but the Cards lost a handful of starters during the game: linebackers Lorenzo Alexander (foot) and Sam Acho (ankle) and safety Rashad Johnson (finger).
Palmer ended up completing just 18-of-35 passes for 187 yards and a pair of interceptions. Banged-up weapons Larry Fitzgerald (a team-best five catches for 64 yards) and Rashard Mendenhall (nine carries for 29 yards) played, with their injuries seemingly a non-factor.
Palmer said the offense just "needs to get better." Simple, but elusive thus far, lost in some late turnovers, errant passes, too much pressure on the quarterback and mental mistakes.
"It's the worst thing in the world when you realize it's not the (opposing) defense," Colledge said. "You're killing yourself and when you are doing that, beating yourself, it's easy for the defense."
The Cardinals will now practice for a week in Florida, hoping a week in the Eastern time zone and weather will benefit them next week when they visit the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They'd like to repeat the fast start – and just not lose that momentum so fast.
"We are better than that," Dockett said. "The Saints are a good team, but they're not that good.
"I told my team today, 'The only bad thing about today is we can't go 15-1,' A lot of football left. No one should feel sorry for themselves. Sometimes it takes a good loss like this to re-evaluate yourself."