The attention has been on the Cardinals' offense almost all the time, no surprise with the hiring of coach Kliff Kingsbury and the drafting of quarterback Kyler Murray.
Sunday's loss to the Carolina Panthers, 38-20, at State Farm Stadium, it was hard not to focus on a defense that struggled all day despite the Panthers coming in winless and starting backup quarterback Kyle Allen in place of the injured Cam Newton.
Allen threw four touchdown passes. Christian McCaffery ran for 153 yards. And the game eventually unraveled to the point that the offense, swamped by a pass rush that knew the Cardinals had to pass, went off the tracks in the fourth quarter.
"Where we are as a team, coming off last year, we have a new quarterback – a rookie quarterback – a new coach, everything is a process," defensive tackle Corey Peters said. "Today was a step back. I feel like the first two weeks, even though we didn't get the result we wanted, there was enough good there to say, 'OK, I can see where we are going.'
"Today was just an all-systems failure."
Murray became the first player in NFL history to complete at least 25 passes in each of his first three starts, but his 30 completions (in 43 attempts) produced only 173 yards as the Panthers (1-2) didn't allow the Cardinals (0-2-1) much downfield. Murray also was sacked eight times – some on the pass protection, some because he took too long to get rid of the ball – and his two touchdown passes got canceled by two late interceptions.
Murray said he was "fine" physically, his frustration understandably apparent after the game.
"They did a good job over there on offense," Murray said. "They kept scoring and we didn't."
The Cardinals have had their issues in the recent past with backup quarterbacks dealing a gut punch with a heralded starter out. In 2015, a superior Cardinals team lost in Pittsburgh to a duo of Michael Vick and Landry Jones with Ben Roethlisberger out injured. In 2016, with Tom Brady suspended, the Cardinals were stunned at home by backup Jimmy Garoppolo.
Sunday, it was Allen, a Scottsdale kid who went from unemployed and actually attending games at State Farm Stadium in 2018 to watch childhood friend Christian Kirk to beating the Cards on the same field.
Linebacker Chandler Jones did sack Allen twice, causing fumbles both times (with the Cardinals recovering the first.) Otherwise, Allen was sublime, completing 19 of 26 passes for 261 yards without an interception.
"It's cool to have all my family and friends here and go out to dinner with them last night, but at the end of the day, I kept telling myself this: Have a plan when you come to the line of scrimmage every play, right?" Allen said. "And don't make it more difficult than it needs to be, so one play at a time."
The Cardinals wanted to start faster, and they did that. Jones' fumble recovery short-circuited the Panthers' initial drive, and Murray moved the Cards 74 yards on 14 plays on Arizona's first possession that ended in a one-yard Larry Fitzgerald TD catch.
The Cards also marched for a touchdown to open the second half.
But Allen and the Panthers answered every single Cardinals' score with a touchdown of their own, a pace Murray and the offense couldn't match.
"It's unacceptable," linebacker Jordan Hicks said. "We've got to execute better, that's what it all comes down to.
"Defensively, we just have to play better. Put our offense in better situations, better positions, and get off the field."
Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury declined to say the Panthers' constant answers were "damaging. We just have to be able to respond. … We have to get better in a hurry."
The Cardinals generated 124 yards on their first two drives of the second half, putting up 10 points and making the score 21-20 after a field goal. The offense had been good. Then McCaffery broke off a 76-yard touchdown run, and it felt like a backbreaker.
From there, the Cards had five possessions for minus-16 yards, and Murray endured five of his sacks and threw both of his interceptions.
"We put ourselves in a real bad spot and then obviously they reaped the rewards of pinning their ears back and doing some more exotic things," guard Justin Pugh said.
The Cardinals face the Seahawks at State Farm Stadium next week, seeking that first victory in what'll be their third home game already.
"We just didn't play very well in any phase," Kingsbury said. "We've got to get better."
Images from the Week 3 contest at State Farm Stadium