A Cardinals’ coach has not won his first game with the franchise since 1979, when interim boss Larry Wilson triumphed in his December debut.
Both Ken Whisenhunt and Bruce Arians dropped their openers, only to eventually become the two most successful coaches the Cardinals have had. And that’s where Steve Wilks now wants to aim, after he too dropped his initial offering Sunday at State Farm Stadium – a disappointing 24-6 loss to Washington in which little went right on either side of the ball.
“As I told the guys (in the locker room), this one game doesn’t define the season,” Wilks said.
That was the message, not surprisingly, coming from all corners of the roster. It had to be, because no team would want this definition to be linked with them all season.
The Cardinals (0-1) were supposed to start with defending the run – and they could not, allowing the Redskins (1-0) 182 yards on the ground, including 96 (on 26 carries) to former Cardinal Adrian Peterson. They were supposed to be buoyed by one of the best running backs in the game, David Johnson, who had a nice start and then was beating himself up afterward for his own poor play. They were supposed to have a passing game built on quarterback Sam Bradford’s accuracy – except Bradford misfired too much, and the offense generated little until it was much too late.
Punter Andy Lee was excellent, netting 46.2 yards per kick on five punts, and averaging 52.6 yards a punt overall. But the Cardinals can’t have Lee be their star.
“There’s no reason to panic,” defensive tackle Corey Peters said. “But this is not OK. It is not acceptable. Everyone needs to take a good look in the mirror and point that finger at themselves and their responsibility in this, because when fail at this level, it’s not one person, not one position group. Everyone bears some blame in this.”
Johnson seemed to take it personally more than most. The running back signed his new three-year $40-plus million contract extension Saturday night, but by the time he was able to talk to the media about it, it meant little in the moment.
“I’m not even thinking about the contract,” Johnson said. “I am thinking about the loss, what I did wrong, mental errors, dropped catches and how bad I played.”
Johnson looked excellent in a couple of early carries, but the Cardinals were only able to run 14 offensive plays – one being a kneeldown -- in a first half that ended with Washington holding a 21-0 lead. At the break the Redskins had 22 first downs to the Cardinals’ two, and 261 yards to the Cards’ 36.
Johnson finished with 37 yards rushing on nine carries and the Cards’ lone touchdown, and added five catches for 30 more yards. Larry Fitzgerald lead the receivers with seven catches for 76 yards and a team-high 10 targets. Beyond that, though, the offense was silent.
Bradford finished 20-for-34 for 153 yards and an interception. The Cards ran some no-huddle in the second half and found a little rhythm, but the hole was much too deep.
“We ran 13 plays in the first half,” guard Justin Pugh said. “That’s not going to win you any games.”
“You can’t press,” Pugh added. “When you press, bad things happen. I’ve seen it before. We’ll watch film, we’ll come back stronger, tighter, and learn from it. That’s all we can do.”
The Redskins controlled the line of scrimmage. Quarterback Alex Smith was masterful, handing it off to Peterson or speedy Chris Thompson (65 yards on five carries) or showing off his steady passing game (21-of-30, 255 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.)
Perhaps Smith could’ve been pushed into more troubling situations, but Washington simply ran when they needed to.
“It wasn’t good enough, it wasn’t good enough at all,” Wilks said, noting poor tackling was an issue. “You’re talking about almost 200 yards rushing, unacceptable.”
Peterson (70 yards on two catches) and Thompson (63 on six) also hurt the Cardinals through the air.
“Adrian Peterson came in and did his job,” linebacker Josh Bynes said. “We didn’t do ours.”
The frustration was apparent from the crowd, and they let the Cardinals know at times.
“We heard them booing,” cornerback Patrick Peterson said. “I mean, we didn’t give them anything good to watch today.”
The Cardinals, by definition, plan to change that next week. It has to come in a trip to Los Angeles, against the NFC West favorite Rams. That’s what is next. The opportunity against Washington is gone now, regardless of how it played out.
“The only thing that’s guaranteed is we’re not going to go 16-0 now,” Fitzgerald said. “We’ll go back to work tomorrow, make the corrections and get ready.”
Images from the regular season opener at State Farm Stadium