Linebacker Markus Golden takes the bulk of the impact as the Cardinals swarm Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott in Monday night's 28-17 loss to Dallas.
"Monday Night Football" started so well, Carson Palmer completing pass after pass and the defense locking down Ezekiel Elliott and Larry Fitzgerald grabbing a bushel of catches.
The beginning was so unlike what the Cardinals had done the first two games of the season.
The end, however, wasn't as pleasant.
"The day doesn't matter," defensive lineman Frostee Rucker said. "It could have been Sunday or Monday, we took a loss. That's frustrating, and it's an NFC game, and when you are old like me you count NFC games and down the line that hurts.
"But it's early."
The Cardinals (1-2) did many of the things they are planned. They controlled the ball, holding it for more than 36 minutes, running 75 plays to Dallas' 45. They had more first downs (22-15) and yards (332-273) than the Cowboys (2-1). They did not turn the ball over, and Palmer looked sharper than he had the first
two weeks. Elliott gained 80 yards on 22 carries, but was never really a factor.
Fitzgerald was spectacular, tying a career-high with 13 receptions for 149 yards and a touchdown, almost single-handedly carrying a receiving corps that could not get a catch from gimpy (hamstring) J.J. Nelson.
But there had been no accounting for the two broken plays that led to both of Dallas' fourth-quarter touchdowns to break a 14-14 tie, scramble specials by Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott that resulted in a 37-yard score to Brice Butler and then a 53-yard pass to Butler to set up a second touchdown.
"It was just those two busted plays," cornerback Patrick Peterson said. "We just have to make sure we contain and as a defense we thrive at not giving those balls up, but they happen. We just have to continue to stand together."
There was also no way to avoid the problems on the offensive line, which struggled most of the night. Palmer was sacked six times, three by defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, who was a monster the Cardinals could not contain.
"It just wasn't good enough," guard Evan Boehm said.
The line, with injured left guard Mike Iupati inactive and missing injured left tackle D.J. Humphries, also lost Iupati fill-in Alex Boone at the end of the game with an undisclosed injury.
"When we allowed (Palmer) to throw, he was money," coach Bruce Arians said.
Palmer finished 29-for-48 for 325 yards and two touchdowns, completing his first 11 passes. The running game didn't help, with only 49 yards on 21 tries. New starter Chris Johnson gained only 17 yards on 12 carries, as Arians said he took the blame for ground game issues.
The inability to move the ball after the first quarter started to catch up to the Cards. Palmer said the rule
of thumb when backed up inside one's own 10-yard line is to get at least one first down. Three times the Cards started at their own 10 or deeper, all three times, the Cards went three-and-out.
All three times, Dallas scored on their next possession after getting golden field position -- the Arizona 33-yard line, the Arizona 46 and the 50.
Grinding the clock didn't always result in much either. The Cardinals had a 15-play drive in the first half that ended with Phil Dawson missing a 36-yard field goal – his third miss of the young season – and a 16-play drive that ended with only a field goal.
"We didn't make enough plays, especially on third down," Palmer said. "We put ourselves in some tough spots."
Sometimes, they made it work, like when Fitzgerald made his two spectacular jump-ball catches, picking up 37 and 24 yards, respectively – the latter of which coming on third-and-18. But trailing, 21-14, in the fourth quarter, a third-and-10 pass to Brittan Golden fell incomplete, leading to that Dawson field goal.
On the next offensive play, Butler had his 53-yard gain, beating Tyrann Mathieu on a jump ball. Eventually, the Cowboys got the touchdown, putting the Cardinals in a bad spot. Down 11 with 40 seconds left at the Dallas 2, Arians decided to go for it rather than kick the field goal and get it to eight.
A pass fell incomplete, and the night was over.
"It's demoralizing any time you lose a game," Fitzgerald said. "It was great energy, a wonderful home field advantage on 'Monday Night Football.' This would have been a great one to be able to get, but it didn't come to fruition.
"We've got to get back to the drawing board and get ready for San Francisco on a short week. But it stings. It definitely stings."
Images from the "Monday Night Football" matchup