Arizona Loses to New York Giants 37-29 As All Levels of “Synergy” Break Down

By Laura Healy

On Sunday afternoon the crowd at the University of Phoenix Stadium looked forward to the Arizona Cardinals meeting the best team in football, the New York Giants. The game started out well, with the defense forcing a punt and the offense scoring a field goal after a 6:47 drive. The Giants answered with a touchdown drive. The Cardinals responded with their own touchdown drive. Then things went terribly wrong. After bobbling the snap, punter Dirk Johnson rolled out to the right, where an alert DL Calais Campbell took off for the end zone. But Johnson threw a duck over Campbell’s head, which was hard to do, since Campbell is 6’8”.

Then the breakdown started to occur. Backup player Matt Ware was offside on the kickoff. New York forced Arizona to re-kick. This time the Giants’ Domenik Hixon returned it to the Arizona 17.  The Cards defense held the Giants to a field goal. Arizona came back and scored a touchdown. On the kickoff, Hixon again returned it for long yardage. A shoestring tackle by Cardinals WR Jereme Urban saved the touchdown. It didn’t matter, the Giants pushed it in for a touchdown anyway. Halftime score: Giants 17, Cardinals 12.

Arizona got the football on the opening drive, but QB Kurt Warner fumbled and New York recovered it. This wasn’t the kind of fumble Warner has dropped in the past. His arm was in position to throw, but he pumped once, and then had it knocked out. You could argue he held the ball for to long. New York took over at the Arizona 40 and marched down to score a touchdown. New York 24, Arizona 12. The frustration came from the offense driving the ball, then stalling and settling for field goals.

In addition to special teams, they couldn’t pressure Eli Manning in the second half. Unlike Warner, who faced pressure all day, Manning sat back and found open receivers. CB Rod Hood didn’t play because of an injury and it showed. CB Eric Green, who rookie Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie replaced a few games ago, got burned regularly. Fortunately, the Cardnials offense finally began to work. On the end of a 90-yard drive RB Tim Hightower pushed it in, cutting the New York lead to 24-19.

With the defense still unable to get Manning, New York marched down for another touchdown, leading 31-19. Warner threw an interception, and the Giants kicked a field goal to go up 34-19. In the past, the Cardinals would have folded. They didn’t, two long passes led to the Cards getting in the Red Zone. Warner threw the ball to WR Anquan Boldin for a touchdown, making the score 34-26. The Giants scored another field goal, making the score 37-26.

The Cardinals’ offense turned around and only took 1:24 to march into range for a Neil Rackers field goal. The score: New York 37, Arizona 29. The momentum shifted in a palpable way. The crowd got back into the game. Rackers lined up for an onside kick, and booted it to the opposite side the Giants expected. A great kick that went the required 10-yards. The ball bounced right in front of Ralph Brown, hit him on the numbers, and bounced away. Game over. Brown should have caught and fallen on the ball.

The loss to the Giants revealed areas that need work. The defense stopped the run, holding the Giants to 87-yards. A great deal by the front seven, but at the same time, they got little pressure on Manning. CB Rod Hood needs to return because CB Eric Green is a serious drop-off. Manning quickly figured out not to pick on Rodgers-Croamtie and immediately started successfully picking on Green. The offensive line needs work, particularly the right side with Deuce Lutui and Levi Brown. They are both in their second year but must step up and produce consistently. Tight end, because of injuries, is a problem. Finally, Kurt Warner threw 52 times. 35-40 attempts is optimal. Arizona abandoned the run too soon, especially when JJ Arrington showed some success.

Most of the media generally chalk this game as “the same old Cardinals”. That is far from the truth. Arizona gave New York the ball in their territory five times for 23 points. Yet, they only lost by eight. This game, like the earlier loss to the Jets when they learned never to quit on offense, has shown the Cardinals the level of intensity required to play with the big teams in the NFL.

“We can play with anybody in the league,” Darnell Dockett said after the game. The Cardinals turned the ball over twice. The Giants didn’t turn it over. Usually, the team with the most turnovers loses. As a team that passes first, interceptions and fumbles will happen. Warner is not going to be perfect. Through eleven games, Warner only has 8 interceptions, and 21 touchdowns. He is in contention for the NFL MVP this year. The defense must step up, not only to pressure the opposing QB, but to cause turnovers. The offense must score touchdowns and not settle for field goals.

These are all facts they can’t think about too much, because they play Thursday night against Philadelphia. But, I can tell you one thing; if the offense comes out and gets a lead, and the defense plays off the offense, it could be a long night for Philadelphia. If they don’t jump out early, then Donovan McNabb will keep the Eagles in the game. Knowing they could clench the NFC West should give them extra motivation, especially coming off a loss in their nest.