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With Raised Stakes, Cardinals Must Bounce Back In Carolina

Injuries will make road test a tough one against Panthers

Arizona Cardinals defensive end Zach Allen (94), defensive tackle Corey Peters (98) and linebacker De'Vondre Campbell combine to make a tackle against the Detroit Lions in a regular season game on Sunday, September 27, 2020.
DE Zach Allen (94), DT Corey Peters (98) and LB De'Vondre Campbell combine to make a tackle against the Lions.

The Cardinals spent the past week lamenting a missed opportunity against the Lions, as three interceptions by Kyler Murray dashed hopes of a 3-0 start.

Despite that, their current circumstance is still light years ahead of the past two seasons, when the team went a combined 0-7-1 in its first four games to basically end playoff aspirations before they began.

The Cardinals (2-1) are confident they have staying power in 2020, and a bounceback against the Panthers on Sunday seems critical. While the season is still young, the difference between 3-1 and dropping to .500 is a wide swing in only a 16-game campaign.

"We'll find out this week how we rebound," coach Kliff Kingsbury said. "But it's a veteran group with great leadership, and they understand where we think this team can go."

The Panthers (1-2) are in rebuild mode, as mainstays Cam Newton and Luke Kuechly are gone, as is coach Ron Rivera. Former Baylor coach Matt Rhule has taken over and is hoping that new quarterback Teddy Bridgewater can continue what has been a promising start.

Carolina won't have star running back Christian McCaffrey in this game, as he is on injured reserve with a sprained ankle.

However, the Panthers are in much better shape on the injury front than the Cardinals. Starting safeties Budda Baker (thumb) and Chris Banjo (hamstring) won't play, while five other starters – wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins (ankle), wide receiver Christian Kirk (groin), center Mason Cole (hamstring), cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick (concussion) and outside linebacker Devon Kennard (calf) – are questionable.

Kingsbury said Hopkins and Kirk will both be game-day decisions. Hopkins leads the NFL in receptions (32) and yards this season (356), but the Cardinals will be cautious if he is not comfortable playing through the injury.

"We're not going to roll him out there if he's not feeling like he can play at his best," Kingsbury said.

This will be the first of three consecutive road games for the Cardinals, as they face the winless Jets in Week 5 and the Cowboys on "Monday Night Football" in Week 6.

The first road foray for the Cardinals was fruitful, as they upset the defending NFC champion 49ers in the opener. Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said the lack of fans is a big advantage for the road team this season because the offensive communication is better and he can pick up tips by listening to the defensive players communicate.

"You can actually hear them talking to each other, so you know, 'OK, they're playing zone or they're playing man,'" Fitzgerald said. "You have a better understanding of what's going on, because you can hear everything and not hear the crowd distracting you. We've only had one road game, but it definitely wasn't nearly as challenging as it has been the last 16 years."

Murray blamed himself for the loss to Detroit, and could have some opportunities for redemption against a largely-unproven Panthers secondary.

The status of Hopkins will be watched like a hawk, but Rhule believes the Cardinals have plenty of balance beyond him.

"They have a lot, a lot, a lot of weapons," Rhule said.

The NFC West has been as tough as advertised through three weeks, with every team at least 2-1 on the year. The Cardinals are mad they aren't undefeated along with the Seahawks, and are hoping to funnel that dissatisfaction into laser-like focus in Carolina.

"You have to learn from those games," guard Justin Pugh said. "We shoot ourselves in the foot – had three turnovers – and still had a chance to win. We have to make sure we don't have that fall-off again, and have a sense of urgency that is paramount, because being 3-1 is everything we can focus on."

Images from practice at the Dignity Health Training Center, presented by Hyundai.

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