Kliff Kingsbury and linebacker Jordan Hicks would not use the Cardinals' defensive predicament as an excuse after Sunday's loss to the Dolphins, but the attrition could not be ignored.
Starting cornerbacks Byron Murphy (COVID-19) and Dre Kirkpatrick (thigh) missed the game, and then top reserve Kevin Peterson suffered a concussion early in the 34-31 loss.
It forced undrafted rookie Jace Whittaker and newly-signed De'Vante Bausby into the fire as the only cornerback options beyond Patrick Peterson. Rookie linebacker Isaiah Simmons also played some slot cornerback in certain packages.
The Dolphins' passing game clicked despite rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa making only his second career start, as he finished 20-of-28 for 248 yards and two touchdowns.
"We just didn't get it done," Kingsbury said. "There are no excuses. We brought (Whittaker and Bausby) in and they had practiced all week knowing that was a possibility. I'll have to watch the film to see how they played."
The defensive front was also missing outside linebacker Devon Kennard (COVID-19) while defensive tackle Jordan Phillips didn't play the entire way after entering the contest with a hamstring injury.
Between the injuries and some ill-timed penalties, the Cardinals' defense ended up allowing 27 points to a team that doesn't have great offensive pedigree.
"It's everybody," Hicks said. "It's not just one person, it's not just two people. At some point there was everybody saying, 'My bad.' And when you have too many 'My bads' from that many different people, it's going to look the way it did tonight."
The Cardinals threw a lot of different pressure packages at Tagovailoa and flummoxed him at times. Markus Golden had a sack, but a second was nullified when Leki Fotu was penalized for a facemask on a 2nd-and-20, and the Dolphins ended up scoring a touchdown on the drive.
Josh Mauro and De'Vondre Campbell added sacks but Hicks said the Cardinals' defense couldn't dictate the game because the Dolphins were rarely in uncomfortable spots.
"The problem is, we have to get him to third down (to blitz)," Hicks said. "If you look at the way the game went, we weren't getting him to third down."
HOPKINS DRAWS FOUR PASS INTERFERENCE PENALTIES
DeAndre Hopkins was held to just three catches for 30 yards, but that didn't really tell the story of his effect on the game.
The Cardinals' star receiver drew four pass interference penalties, including one on a wild fourth-down play in the second half. Quarterback Kyler Murray was going to run the ball on fourth-and-1 but saw a wall of defenders.
Instead, he wheeled around and tossed a pass to Hopkins, who drew the flag. The Cardinals had an ineligible man downfield because of the play-call, so Murray got a second chance and gained 28 yards on an ensuing fourth down run.
Kingsbury said Hopkins "definitely impacted the game" between the pass interference calls and by commanding double teams.
"I've still got to find ways to get him the football more, because when he touches it good things happen," Kingsbury said.
WILLIAMS SCORES IN RETURN
Tight end Maxx Williams caught a four-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter in his first game back since an ankle injury landed him on injured reserve. He also had the key block on Murray's third-quarter rushing touchdown.
Safety Jalen Thompson, who also returned from injured reserve in this one, nearly had a first-quarter interception, but it was overturned on review because one foot was out of bounds.