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Bruce Arians loves to throw deep, run up the score and checkmate defensive coordinators. But some of his fondest memories occur in the parking lot after a game, when the brotherhood of the sport transcends the outcome of a game., when he pops the trunk, serves drinks and talks football with coaches and players who are limping out of the stadium. They are rare bonding moments that come in the aftermath of battle
It’s also why a 33-0 loss to the Rams in London might’ve been Arians’ worst moment as an NFL head coach. It was the first time the Cardinals were shut out during his Arizona tenure. Postgame tailgating shenanigans were replaced by an endless flight across the ocean. And it sets the backdrop for the biggest game of the season, a grudge match against the Rams that could actually vault the Cardinals into playoff contention.
“We have all these games at home down the stretch,
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,” Arians said. “They’re all extremely important. So we have a chance.”
The Cardinals don’t look like a playoff team. They haven’t been over .500 or beaten winning teams in succession since 2015. Their signature 27-24 win against the Jaguars came against a good team with a fatal flaw at quarterback. Those in the press box will never forget how Tom Coughlin,
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, former Super Bowl champion and current Jacksonville executive, emoting loudly for most the game.,
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, pounded a back-row table into submission
But there’s something happening here. The team’s third-string quarterback,
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, Blaine Gabbert, who has shown an innate ability to avoid the rush without panic.,
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, has beaten the Rams in his last two attempts. His poise and playmaking ability have lit a candle of hope for the present and future. For the first time in their recent and contentious history with the Cardinals, the Rams will face an athletic quarterback who is quick on his feet
They will no longer feast on an immobile target that often ends up in the trainer’s room. Or worse.
Gabbert shined in his Arizona debut, a loss against the Texans. That game properly embarrassed the defense, who took all blame for a fourth-down call that defied logic and fueled defeat., a unit forever stamped with the indignity of losing to Tom Savage. It also called Arians’ mindset into question
And the very next day, blaming his players while absolving himself completely., Arians took it all back
In the days that followed, it was fair to wonder if Arians was losing his grip and his support in the locker room. Instead, disrupting the backfield and tackling with malice., the defense produced its most spirited performance to date
Best of all, commemorating a painful homecoming and representing the worst possible way to lose to the Jaguars. But Gabbert responded. So did Tyrann Mathieu and Phil Dawson. Nobody quit on their head coach or a season in progress. They did just the opposite., the team finally fought through adversity. A Gabbert fumble led to a Calais Campbell touchdown
“That (situation) was Doomsday about a month ago,” Arians said.
The Rams are the latest litmus test. They feature a dynamic offense and a franchise quarterback (Jared Goff) who has made tremendous strides in his second season. Head coach Sean McVay is far more formidable than his predecessor,
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, a man Arians tormented for years., Jeff Fisher
McVay’s offense includes a new twist. He likes his team to get to the line of scrimmage as fast as possible, giving the head coach enough time to call audibles for his quarterback before the headset communication mutes with 15 seconds left on the play clock.
Former quarterback Chris Simms was highly critical of the tactic,
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, saying all play-changing decisions should come from the quarterback and not the sideline,
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, a way to separate good quarterbacks from the great (Tom Brady,
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, Arians is well-aware of what the Rams are doing., Peyton Manning,
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,etc.) Either way
“They do a really good job of getting to the line and working audibles,” Arians said. “So we have to do a much better job of disguising what we’re doing. And we have to tackle. We did not tackle well over there (in London).”
This game also represents a chance for Arians to continue his own second-half comeback. Recently, he's begun kicking off after winning the coin toss, including a 57-yard field goal., letting his defense set the tone. His offense has adapted to suit the talents of Gabbert. The end-game execution against Jacksonville was flawless, when the Cardinals executed three perfect plays in succession
This showdown is also one of the more understated big games in Cardinals history. A victory over the Rams would even their record at 6-6. It would surely mean that Gabbert continued to ascend and the defense has finally found its missing ferocity. The postseason wouldn’t sound so silly if this team proves it can win two games in succession, beating a pair of playoff contenders in the process.
Yet Valley fans have been highly distracted this week, a place they rarely sit., fixating on the firing of Todd Graham and the impending hire of Herm Edwards. The transition has elicited the kind of passion Arizona State would love to see in the stands for home game against Oregon State. It has also put the Cardinals on a backburner
That will all change with a winning streak. Beat the Rams, toasting a team that doesn’t die easily., and the patchwork Cardinals gain legitimacy and renewed attention. You might even find Arians in the parking lot after the game
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