Safety Tyrann Mathieu can't pick up a fumble during the Cardinals' 33-18 loss in Buffalo Sunday.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – Tyrann Mathieu just kept chasing the ball, with nothing but green in front of him, until he had crushingly and inadvertently knocked it out of bounds.
It was a play the safety had made countless times before. But not Sunday, when the weather was perfect and the Cardinals were anything but.
"It was one of those days you want to forget," Mathieu said after the Cardinals fell apart often in a 33-18 loss to the Bills at New Era Stadium.
Maybe it's better to remember.
"Every year you have to earn the right to get to the playoffs," wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. "Right now we're not a playoff team. The record states what it is. We start playing better, then we can handle such aspirations. But right now we've got to focus on what we can control, and Coach always
touches on it. We have to respect the process."
A team that has been emphasizing starting fast couldn't against the Bills. The offense was dormant the first quarter, the defense – which looked good through two series -- couldn't stop the run, and the special teams could be in for a major shakeup after punter Drew Butler seriously re-sprained his ankle and long snapper Kam Canaday's high snap led to a Buffalo touchdown.
The Cardinals were outgained 142-2 in the first quarter. They didn't generate a first down until midway through the second quarter. Down 10 at halftime and getting the ball to start the third quarter, the unit again went three-and-out, with the Bills (1-2) following up with their third and final rushing touchdown of the day.
"We talked all week of getting off to a fast start and that's the slowest start we've had in four years offensively," coach Bruce Arians said.
Quarterback Carson Palmer said he wasn't worried – "You always feel there is so much game left," he said – but any step forward offensively seemed to come with a caveat. The Cards' slim late game chances were torpedoed when their last four drives all ended in Palmer interceptions – his first turnovers of the season.
There were too many errors to count, but the worst sequence came midway through the third quarter and ultimately doomed any comeback hope.
Trailing 23-7 but driving, the Cardinals (1-2) had second-and-1 at the Buffalo 8. Running back David Johnson got wide and not only looked like he'd have a first down but maybe a touchdown. But before he
got going, he clipped the foot of tight end Troy Niklas and fell for no gain.
A second Johnson run gained nothing. Palmer took a delay of game, forcing the Cards to instead kick a field goal instead of going for it. The snap of rookie Kam Canaday was high, and it glanced off the hands of holder Drew Butler. The Bills (1-2) eventually picked it up and ran it back 53 yards for a touchdown.
"I had space, I just got tripped up," Johnson said, shaking his head. "It was a rough one today."
Faster offensive starts weren't the only think the Cardinals spent the week emphasizing. They also stressed that the Bills would want to run the ball. Buffalo ended up with 208 yards rushing, winning the fight up front far too often. Buffalo averaged 6.5 yards an attempt, and that was even after late runs into the line to burn up the clock.
"We have a good group, we just have to bounce back," nose tackle Corey Peters said. "But it's not just going to happen. We have to work to make it happen."
The special teams woes didn't help. Butler was hurt on the first punt, meaning kicker Chandler Catanzaro – who did hit a career-long 60-yard field goal – had to punt. He struggled, averaging 33 yards on two punts. Canaday's status is also up in the air after Arians said last week the rookie had already been erratic.
The Bills were without star receiver Sammy Watkins, without fellow receiver Greg Salas and without defensive tackle Marcell Dareus and cornerback Ronald Darby.
Arians quickly dismissed the idea an early East Coast start hurt – "That's bull(expletive)," he said – and said his team needs to find out how to transfer good work during the week to Sundays.
"We think we are better than what we are," Mathieu said. "We've got to prepare better, and we have to get off to better starts. I think we have enough talent on this team to not start slow.
"I think a lot of people have to check their egos. We have to continue to prepare. We cannot let this discourage us."
Images of the Cardinals' 33-18 loss at Buffalo in Week 3