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In Cleveland, Cardinals Can't Find Rhythm In Clayton Tune Start

Offense struggles in 27-0 loss to Browns in rookie QB's debut

Cardinals quarterback Clayton Tune scrambles during the first half of Sunday's loss in Cleveland.
Cardinals quarterback Clayton Tune scrambles during the first half of Sunday's loss in Cleveland.

CLEVELAND – Clayton Tune's hopes for his NFL starting debut wasn't this.

The rookie quarterback knew he was going to only be a bridge between the departed Joshua Dobbs and the incoming Kyler Murray, likely for only a game with Murray seemingly set to finally make his return from his ACL injury next week at home against the Falcons.

He knew he wasn't going to have starting receiver Michael Wilson or either of the Cardinals' top two running backs because of injury. He knew the Browns sported one of the best defenses in the NFL.

That didn't make Sunday's 27-0 loss at Cleveland Browns Stadium any easier, with the Cardinals (1-8) finishing with only 58 net offensive yards and only 17 net yards passing.

"I'm frustrated, obviously," Tune said. "I'm disappointed. I wish I could've put a better showing out there. Win. Anytime you lose it's frustrating and disappointing. You've just got to keep your head up and learn from it."

Coach Jonathan Gannon wouldn't say Murray would play next week against the Falcons – "I'm not thinking about that right now" – and again took the blame for the sideways performance.

"When you get beat like this, I didn't get the team prepped for the game," Gannon said. "It falls solely on me.

"We couldn't run it, we couldn't throw, we couldn't protect. A lot of things to get cleaned up."

The Cardinals hadn't been shut out since Week 2 of the 2018 season against the Rams in Los Angeles, when Steve Wilks was the coach. Tune was in a difficult spot, especially since Murray has been siphoning practice reps as the Cardinals try and get him ready to return.

Tune finished 11-of-20 for 58 yards and two interceptions and lost a fumble deep in his own territory setting up a Browns TD. He was sacked seven times, and that was before starting offensive linemen D.J. Humphries and Will Hernandez left the game with injuries.

His first pass went for 12 yards to tight end Trey McBride, but after that, the Browns (5-3) overwhelmed the Cardinals offensive line – an instance that only amplified Tune's inexperience. Of the Cards' 14 possessions, only two ended past the 50.

"We couldn't get the ball moving," McBride said. "It's the offense's fault. Defense played great."

Said Humphries, "Gotta be better. Gotta be better. Not enough from everybody. That's the best way to say it. We haven't lost like that in a long time."

The defense held up as long as it could. It was bitten early by bad luck, a Deshaun Watson pass deflecting off the facemask of defensive lineman Dante Stills and still floating some 20 yards in the air – just above the hands of safety Jalen Thompson, who looked like he had undercut the route correctly – and into the hands of Amari Cooper for the game's first touchdown.

The Browns were held to 113 net rushing yards, well below the 149 yards they average – second in the NFL.

Without an offensive push, however, it wasn't enough.

"As a team you can't win football games when you are turning it over and you are going out on short fields and you are behind the sticks all day," Gannon said.

The Cardinals had issues offensively over the last month when Dobbs was playing, but has harsh as it was for Tune, the breakdown across the unit was noticeable.

"It was a plethora of things we have to go back and get better on," wide receiver Marquise Brown said.

While "every rep is an evaluation," Gannon said, whether Tune was able to be assessed with one game is difficult to say. With Murray's return looming, Sunday might've been Tune's last chance to see snaps until next preseason.

The QB took blame – "I'm going to look at myself in the mirror first" – he said while Gannon, acknowledging issues with coaching and pass protection, knew success might be hard to achieve.

"It's a hard spot for him," Gannon said.

The Cardinals, meanwhile, have to activate Murray to the 53-man roster this week. Soon enough, his playing status will be known for sure. The Cardinals could get Conner and Wilson back this week too.

But there are other things the team must find in this week besides just their franchise QB.

"(Kyler) is not really the mindset," safety Jalen Thompson said. "It will definitely be great having Kyler back but we're trying to take it one game at a time and not really look into the future."