Larry Fitzgerald has made it clear he doesn’t necessarily like to block. But he likes to tackle.
Sometimes, it’s a subtle attempt at a takedown, like when he was giving Michael Floyd grief near the end of the win in St. Louis when Floyd didn’t come down with a diving TD catch and slowly moved into position before the lighting quick lower-leg takedown on the sideline. (I have been on the receiving end of that move a couple of times over the years.) Sometimes, it’s full speed, like when he took down Smokey Brown after his TD against the Eagles last year (spooking Brown enough that he rushed his TD dance against the Rams later in the season for fear of a Fitz hit). Or, for instance, last week.
Dwight Freeney had just sacked Teddy Bridgewater to seal the Cardinals win. And Fitz sacked Freeney.
“Listen, we’re the two oldest guys out there and you’re running full speed and I’m sitting there wondering what he’s going to do,” Freeney said. “And then I’m like, ‘Oh God, he’s jumping.’ The whole game I’m healthy until that damn play.”
Fitzgerald – who complained he was whacked on the head by guard Ted Larsen’s helmet when Larsen, helmet in hand, went to hug Freeney – said he just got excited.
“I’ve known Dwight for a very long time, a long time,” Fitz said. “To be able to see him do that at that moment, for that number, a $200,000 sack, that was big.”
Ahh, the cash. Freeney hit the $200,000 incentive in his contract for his fourth sack, and he gets incentive money for each sack going forward. Fitz doesn’t miss stuff like that.
“I appreciate that,” Fitzgerald said. “I’m going to appreciate every single one for him here on out, too.”
Maybe there will be a sack-tackle in Philly too.
— Every Friday, both the offense and defense leave for a players-only meeting after practice ends. It’s usually just a wrap-up reminder from unit leaders about the game plan, imploring focus. Most of the time, the defense is gone for 15 or 20 minutes. They met for much longer Friday. After the mistakes made against the Vikings – and what can happen with similar mistakes against the high-tempo Eagles – there has been a drive to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
— The Cardinals haven’t turned the ball over in three straight games, which has helped considering two of them were close (weird to think in the three games before those, the Cardinals lost the turnover battle yet still won, which feels statistically impossible in today’s NFL.) It feels like turnovers will be the deciding factor Sunday night. If the Cards stay clean, I don’t see the Eagles beating them.
— If Rashad Johnson can’t play, I’ll be very interested to see how the defense reacts and what it means. Patrick Peterson said this week he can’t imagine life without Rashad behind the defense. Will they have to find out? (And given that Johnson is a free agent-to-be, could it be a trial run for 2016?)
— If you haven’t seen “Bruce Arians: A Football Life” you might not know that the Cardinals last year adopted the song “I’m About To Whip Somebody’s Ass” for pre-game. Safety Tyrann Mathieu said he is the locker room DJ before games and is the “only one with that song” on the team. Arians sent it to Mathieu during a text conversation last year, Mathieu liked it, and it became part of the team’s pre-game ritual.
“Every game, home or away, it doesn’t matter,” Mathieu said.
It doesn’t hurt that the Cardinals have won many of those games.
— Michael Floyd grinned, admitting again how he probably stole the pass for Fitzgerald last week that ended up being a 42-yard TD for Floyd, with Fitz blocking. Fitzgerald was asked if Floyd was going to buy him dinner in exchange.
“Mike is the cheapest dude on the team,” said Fitzgerald, who never seems to pass up a chance to needle his fellow Minnesota native. “Mike don’t even pay attention. That’s how cheap he is.”
— Yes, the Cardinals are on the road, but in anticipation of what is expected to be an influx of Packers fans next week after a noticeable amount of Vikings fans at University of Phoenix Stadium last week, Fitzgerald isn’t thrilled.
“Nothing that irks me more than seeing that,” Fitzgerald said. “We want to create that same tradition here. I know we have only been here since 1988. … Hopefully we can change that tide.”
— Freeney signed so late in the season he got a locker not with the linebackers but where there was an open stall. It happened to be between quarterbacks Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton.
“It was kind of funny,” Freeney said, who added with a smile, “but I like being near quarterbacks.”
— Eagles quarterback Sam Bradford, on the possibility of throwing at Peterson, who has been as much of a shutdown cornerback as anyone in the league this season.
“Well, I would probably prefer not to,” Bradford said. “Obviously, Patrick’s a great player. He’s proved that in his time in the league. But, if we have the opportunity and it’s there, you’ve got to throw it. You can’t let one guy take away a whole half of the field.”
— Kyle Odegard did a great job writing about running back David Johnson’s journey to the NFL. Check it out if you haven’t already.
— I think Johnson, who has 99 and 92 yards rushing in his two starts, cracks 100 yards this week.
— Next stop, Philadelphia.
Tags: David Johnson, Dwight Freeney, Eagles, Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, Sam Bradford, Tyrann Mathieu
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The odds are that Matt Barkley — who the Cards agreed to trade for Friday — will not develop into a starter. That’s the reality of taking a flier on a guy who never meshed with what Chip Kelly was doing in Philadelphia. But this is a flier with almost no risk, costing a seventh-round pick and only then if Barkley makes the roster for six games. So Barkley is on a six-week tryout and if it doesn’t work, the Cards move on and keep the pick. The Eagles potentially get something for a guy they were going to cut. And Barkley gets a fresh start with a coach who is pretty good with quarterbacks.
But bigger picture, it’s another chance at a QB. It’s kind of funny, fans are always asking when the Cardinals are at least going to make an effort to find a future QB, a guy for post-Palmer. Then a trade like this happens and so many say why? Because if you don’t have a top 10 (or even top five) pick, this is how you find a future QB — you buy a QB lottery ticket. You go after a Logan Thomas in the fourth round or trade a seventh-rounder for a Barkley, and you hope. Sure, when the numbers are called on the TV Wednesday night, they probably aren’t going to match. You go buy another ticket. Sometimes, the numbers will match enough, and you get that $500 (or in this case, a backup QB.)
The chances of hitting the jackpot is slim. But the Cardinals have plunked their two bucks down, and we’ll see what that means for Barkley when his numbers come up.
Tags: Eagles, Matt Barkley, trade
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The season for the Cardinals’ special teams had its highs and lows. Rookie kicker Chandler Catanzaro proved to be a find and made the first 17 field goals of his career. Return man Ted Ginn, save for one (very important) punt return for a touchdown, was disappointing in his work. Justin Bethel remained a Pro Bowl specialist. Punter Drew Butler had his struggles (especially in the playoffs) but the Cardinals were still one of the best teams in the league when it comes to blocking field goal attempts.
Overall special teams play isn’t easy to analyze — especially in the return game, when there are questions about how much the return man himself struggled or how much was his blocking. But Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News has long tried to tangibly rate what Ron Wolfley loves to call the “transition game.” And in Gosselin’s 2014 rankings, the Cardinals were actually 11th in the NFL in overall special teams.
Gosselin has 22 categories that he looks at, and the formula from there is simple: The best team in a category gets one point, the worst gets 32 points. Lowest score when those 22 categories are totaled is the best. This year, that was the Eagles, and that makes sense — Philly had Darren Sproles returning kicks, they had a record-setting rookie kicker, a good punter, and blocked six kicks (returning three blocked punts for touchdowns).
What’s most impressive for the Cardinals is their ranking of 11th (and there is a significant dropoff from 11 to 12) is that the Cards and Ginn were last in the NFL in kickoff return average at 19 yards per runback. They were also last in average starting point after kickoffs (the 19-yard line — ouch). But they were best in the league in punts downed inside the 20 (35, so Butler did do some things right).
There will be things different on the Cards’ special teams in 2015. The team is expected to move on from Ginn as a return man. And any roster change from year to year impacts special teams the most, because it’s those new rookies and back-half-of-the-roster players who make up the bulk of special teams work.
Tags: Chandler Catanzaro, Drew Butler, Eagles, Justin Bethel, special teams, Ted Ginn
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The NFC West can’t be decided this week. That is going to come down to the “Sunday Night Football” game at home against the Seahawks. But if the Cardinals can beat the Rams Thursday night, regardless of what happens in the rest of the league over the week, they will all but clinch a playoff berth.
The win would make the Cards 11-3, meaning their worst possible record would be 11-5. This is where the head-to-head wins over the Eagles, Cowboys and Lions this season become crucial. All three of those teams are 9-4. A loss by any one of them means the Cards will make the playoffs (again, assuming a win in St. Louis). Since the Cowboys and Eagles play this Sunday night, that’s practically guaranteed.
There is still a sliver of doubt, and as the Bengals and Panthers can attest, it’s not impossible. It is, however, incredibly unlikely an 11-5 Cardinals team is left at home for the postseason:
Here’s the one scenario which would leave an 11-5 Cardinals team out of the playoffs, as unlikely as it may be:
— The Lions finish 3-0 to go 12-4 (and they still have a game against the Packers).
— The Cowboys and Eagles tie Sunday night, and then each come up with wins in their final two games. That would make them 11-4-1.
(h/t to colleague Kyle Odegard for crunching these numbers.)
That scenario — and assuming the 10-3 Packers avoid what looks like an unlikely 1-2 finish against Buffalo, Tampa and Detroit — would leave the Cardinals at home. But a tie isn’t going to happen. Three more 100-yard rushing games by Kerwynn Williams seems more likely than an Eagles-Cowboys tie. (OK, the mathematicians out there probably would disagree, but you get the point.)
A win in St. Louis would be a major step.
Tags: Cowboys, Eagles, Lions, Packers, playoffs, Rams
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As the clock wound down and Nick Foles was trying to get the Eagles in for a touchdown and the Cardinals were trying to hang on to the lead and the University of Phoenix Stadium crowd was deafening, it was hard not to have a flashback standing on the sideline.
No, Sunday’s game in no way matches the Cards’ NFC championship win. But it was a big win, and it certainly caused a few heart palpitations of its own, given multiple throws into the end zone that ended up very close to game-winning scores. The heady play of Rashad Johnson to shove Jordan Matthews out on the final throw – Nate Poole would like to remind everyone the force-out rule was abandoned long ago – capped a win that frankly, seemed improbable the way it played out.
But the Cardinals weren’t getting too giddy after beating the Eagles. Which is a big reason they’ve gotten to 6-1 in the first place. Sure, they get a Victory Monday, but the focus won’t wane.
“You know what our reward for today’s win is?” Larry Fitzgerald said. “A road trip to Dallas to play against the NFC East-leading team.”
Still, you have to wonder, as the Cowboys prepare to play the Redskins Monday night, if those players noticed that they have to play the NFC West leaders next week. The Cardinals have holes, yes. And they seem to overcome them every single time.
— The defense will not get enough credit for Sunday. They gave up a ton of yards (521). Foles threw for a ton of yards (411 – yeah, that pass defense ranking isn’t helped). But yet again, the scoreboard read only 20 points allowed. They twice forced turnovers as the Eagles smelled their goal line and another time held them out of the end zone to force a field goal – a stand that proved to be the difference in the game.
— They did all of that without Patrick Peterson. That scene, where Peterson was face-down on the turf after the helmet-to-helmet-to-helmet collision he had with Jeremy Maclin via the Deone Bucannon hit, was frightening. Peterson tweeted he was OK after the game, and Bucannon said Peterson was OK – OK in the grand scheme of things – but a scary moment. It’ll be interesting to see if he can be ready for the Cowboys.
— Peterson goes out, and that’s when you are very happy to have an Antonio Cromartie. And a quickly-getting-better Tyrann Mathieu.
— I counted eight deep shots (including the 30-yard pass to Fitz and a 25-yarder to Smokey Brown) Sunday. Palmer connected on three, including Brown’s 75-yarder at the end. There was a flea-flicker to Michael Floyd in the first half that was out of Floyd’s reach, otherwise it too might’ve been a TD. It’s a reason why Palmer completed only 20 of 42 passes.
— But 20 of 42 can be overcome when you generate 329 yards. And when you take no sacks and throw no interceptions. Another amazing day taking care of the things that hurt an offense bad.
— Oh, and to think Palmer had a nerve problem that wasn’t even letting him throw much at all three weeks ago. Could he have made the throw to Smokey Brown two weeks ago, Palmer was asked? “I’ll say yeah,” Palmer deadpanned. “Because you can’t prove me wrong.”
— The Cardinals need better pressure on the quarterback, but Arians felt moving the QB “off his spot” meant something. Unfortunately, Foles is pretty good “off his spot” – like on his 50-yard bomb on the run to Riley Cooper – but they did what they could.
“We’d like to sack him, but if he’s off the spot …. He hurt us off the spot, and we lost containment once or twice, but just to get him off the spot and disrupt the play,” Arians said.
— The Cardinals live and die with the blitz. So do the Eagles. That’s what cost them on the Brown TD.
— Interesting Andre Ellington was the only Cardinal with a rushing attempt in the game. Although 23 carries for 71 yards won’t be the production the Cardinals want or need.
— This one was memorable, for sure.
Tags: Andre Ellington, Antonio Cromartie, Carson Palmer, Deone Bucannon, Eagles, Larry Fitzgerald, Nate Poole, Patrick Peterson, Rashad Johnson, Tyrann Mathieu
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The big if not unexpected news: Defensive end Calais Campbell is active today and will be playing for the Cardinals. That isn’t a shock with the way Campbell was talking Friday.
I know I’ve gotten more questions about a rookie sixth-round pick that was already cut once than I ever expected, but for all those waiting, Marion Grice will be active for the first time today for the Cardinals. That’s the guy the Cards pick to replace their third quarterback active, which Logan Thomas was last week. Grice, given the way the Cards would like to run the ball, could see some action today. Linebacker Desmond Bishop is also active for the first time since being re-signed.
Here’s the full Cardinals’ inactive list:
— QB Logan Thomas
— LB Thomas Keiser
— LB Glenn Carson
— DT Alameda Ta’amu
— DT Bruce Gaston
— G Earl Watford
— TE Troy Niklas (ankle)
For the Eagles, RB Darren Sproles (knee) and C Jason Kelce (hernia) are inactive. Starting LB Mychal Kendricks is active.
Tags: Calais Campbell, Eagles, inactives, Marion Grice
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The last time the Cardinals played the Eagles, the game was in Philly a few days after Thanksgiving. And Andre Ellington was not part of it.
A lot has been said about the Cardinals’ near loss to the Eagles last year, about the penalty flags the Cards questioned and the big early deficit and the inability to stop the tight ends. Often lost in the conversation is that Ellington didn’t play. That was right when Ellington was emerging as a key piece of the offense; it was two weeks later when Ellington had what Bruce Arians felt was his best game, in Tennessee.
Ellington missed the Philly game after slipping on the grass during the Cardinals’ Thanksgiving practice. He later said that, at the time, he thought he had torn his ACL. That would have certainly changed the course of the Cards’ recent history. Instead, Ellington is coming off his heaviest workload ever, with 30 touches.
The Cardinals survived losing Carson Palmer for a few games. They would survive a wide receiver missing a couple of games, or one of the linemen. Losing Ellington, though? You’d try not to think about it. Last week, Bruce Arians said he thought Ellington wasn’t going to play the second half with a rib injury. I asked Ellington about it, and he acknowledged he knows how much he is needed on the field.
“There’s a little bit of pressure, I have to admit,” Ellington said. “There is a side of me that wants to be out there for every snap. But at the end of the day, that’s why we have depth on the team. When the starters can’t go, we have guys who can step in.”
— I will be fascinated to see how Chip Kelly’s up-tempo, no-huddle offense operates in an enclosed stadium that tends to get LOUD (underratedly so.) In case you hadn’t heard, there is no NFL home – not Seattle, not New Orleans, not Kansas City – that has generated as many false starts by the opposition since 2006 than the 119 at University of Phoenix Stadium.
— Getting Calais Campbell would be a massive addition to the defense. That goes without saying. But seeing that Carson Palmer was no longer even listed on the injury report this week also meant something. Palmer getting back to lifting weights with his upper body will help his strength, and while it came from a different direction than last year, it certainly seems the Cardinals are set up for a second-half improvement in the passing game. Again, not ideal. But as long as Palmer is healthy, the arrow should go up.
— On the other hand, the Eagles haven’t gotten the same play from QB Nick Foles they did a year ago. He does have 10 TD passes but he’s completing less than 60 percent of his passes and has thrown seven interceptions (five more than last year already.) First job Sunday is to slow LeSean McCoy. After that, maybe the Cards can force Foles into some bad choices.
— The inactive lists will be crucial Sunday. Campbell is questionable, even if I think he’ll play. For the Eagles, they had three guys I didn’t think would be able to go who suddenly practiced “full” Friday. So maybe they will. Center Jason Kelce, linebacker Mychal Kendricks and running back Darren Sproles, if they can go, change the dynamics of the game.
— B.A. keeps talking about how his team hasn’t accomplished anything yet, and linebacker Larry Foote noted there are still 10 games to go in the season. But the team is 5-1 and feeling pretty good. So, Foote was asked, how do you get the message across?
“It’s impossible for young guys to understand it,” Foote said. “You have to say it and then you have to go out there and show them. Just your effort and the way you carry yourself in practice, they can feel the environment, see how older guys are playing, how serious they are with communication and in meeting rooms.”
Certainly, the Cardinals don’t want this to get away from them. With a two-game edge in the loss column, that’s nice to have in the bank. The Cards aren’t going 15-1. But it wouldn’t be bad to emerge from these next two games with at least a 6-2 record. Might as well get the one at home.
— Larry Fitzgerald was full of great quotes this week – talking about his “champagne problems” – and he had a thoughtful answer of what was more important for a successful team: talent, or confidence?
“I think it’s a healthy combination of both,” Fitzgerald said. “You have to have the confidence in yourself that you can go out and make the play, the guy next to you can make the play, and having that trust level in your teammates. That’s huge. It’s exemplified in our defense. Everyone saw the injuries and suspensions and people wrote us off, ‘There’s no way they can play at the same level’ and all they have done is the same thing.”
It’s a great point. The Cards need talent, and I think it only underscores the job GM Steve Keim has done with the depth that the Cards have been able to deal with their injured personnel. But the confidence means something. It oozes from the head coach, and it permeates the locker room. The Cards are 5-1 in part because they believe they should be, everything else be damned.
See you Sunday.
Tags: Andre Ellington, Bruce Arians, Calais Campbell, Carson Palmer, Eagles, Larry Fitzgerald, Larry Foote, Nick Foles
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Defensive end Calais Campbell was back at practice Thursday for the first time since absorbing the chop block of Broncos tight end Julius Thomas. Campbell’s MCL suffered a slight tear, and Campbell — understandably — has been cautiously optimistic in his approach of playing against the Eagles Sunday after missing two games. He wants to play, of course. He also doesn’t want to go out unprepared. Campbell already knows the knee isn’t going to be right the rest of the season. He wants to make sure it’s right enough.
Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles had some fun at Campbell’s expense when analyzing the end’s first practice back. “He’s slow to begin with so it’s hard to tell,” Bowles said, with a big laugh. “He looks the same as when he got caught by Peyton Manning on the touchdown.”
That’s a zing. If you recall, Campbell should have had an interception return for a TD in Denver (before his injury), only to have Manning somehow knock him down near the goal line.
The Cardinals certainly could use Campbell on the field. He was having a Pro Bowl-type season when he was hurt. The Cards have to deal with a better offense Sunday against the Eagles than they have against the Redskins or Raiders in the two games Campbell has missed. But in the long run, the Cardinals must have Campbell period. If that means one more game missed, it would be understandable. All along, Arians said Campbell had to practice at least Friday to play. He looks like he’ll have Thursday and Friday (assuming no setbacks after today.) That would see to bode well for a potential Campbell play Sunday.
Tags: Calais Campbell, Eagles
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Before Calais Campbell got hurt a couple of plays into the second half of last weekend’s game in Denver, the Broncos had exactly four rushing yards. On seven attempts. With Campbell out of the game, the Broncos got 88 yards rushing on 21 tries.
There were, of course, other factors. The defense eventually got tired in the fourth quarter because the Cardinals could not generate any offense and stay on the field. But make no mistake, Campbell is an important part of the run defense. So too is Matt Shaughnessy, who was playing hurt in Denver and now is out a couple months with a knee injury. How the Cardinals deal with the loss of Campbell and Shaughnessy and hold up against the run, in my opinion, is the linchpin of keeping this season together as the Cardinals deal with all their injury-related setbacks.
If the Cardinals can continue to play like a top-five run defense — and they are fifth right now — they will stay in games. Certainly, the next stretch of the schedule will test that. The Redskins have Alfred Morris. The Eagles have Shady McCoy. And the Cowboys have the leading rusher in the NFL in DeMarco Murray. Getting Campbell back sooner rather than later will help, but there no way to know right now exactly when that will be. At this point, the Cards can’t afford to wait for reinforcements anyway. They must perform with who they have.
Tags: Alfred Morris, Calais Campbell, Cowboys, DeMarco Murray, Eagles, Matt Shaughnessy, Redskins, Shady McCoy
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The Cardinals smartly talked around the penalties that were and weren’t called late in Sunday’s loss to the Eagles. They gave some matter-of-fact answers. Coach Bruce Arians said he wanted to watch the video carefully before he really passed judgment (and here’s a guess he won’t talk much about it even then. No upside.)
But as frustrating as that was, it didn’t trump the issues the Cardinals had of their own doing. What Arians and his team will see on video is a team that could’ve been in a much better place by the times the flags were or weren’t thrown. Linebacker Karlos Dansby – who had a pair of sacks — was not a happy camper in the locker room, and penalties didn’t have much to do with it. I asked him if it was going to be hard emotionally to bounce back from a loss like Sundays, given the fact the Cards had been talking about every game like it was a playoff game.
“(Expletive) no,” Dansby snapped. “We’ve got four more games. We’ve got to go play some football. Some winning football. Some inspiring football. We didn’t play with any emotion today. We were flat. Too flat.”
That’s always the danger, playing on the road, playing an early game – even after flying out on a Friday. Tyrann Mathieu called it the Cardinals’ M.O., to start slow in a road game. That seems fair, although it’s a dangerous way to live. Between Sunday and the opener in St. Louis, though, the Cardinals are going to have their share of what-ifs if they don’t make the playoffs.
— The up-tempo portion of the Eagles’ offense didn’t seem to bother the Cardinals a lot. “It was faster in (Cardinals’) practice,” Arians quipped. The play-action part of the offense did bother the Cardinals. That and the fact they couldn’t generate a turnover.
— OK, they did generate a turnover, but Patrick Peterson’s interception was wiped out. I haven’t had a chance to see the Mathieu hold yet. That pick would’ve delivered quite a storyline had it stood.
— I was down on the field with Michael Floyd about 10 yards away on that final pass his way. It did look like a penalty to me from down there, for what that’s worth.
— I’m an ASU grad (and yes, I enjoyed Saturday night very much.) But I don’t see how you can look at Nick Foles and see anything other than a potential long-term QB for Philly. He made a couple errors, but he runs that offense very well.
— Linebacker Matt Shaughnessy quietly had a very good game – seven tackles, four for loss, and a sack. He did get that (questionable) defensive holding call at the end. He’s been a guy whom I’d think the Cardinals want to extend on a contract. It will be interesting to see if they can lock him up.
— I think running back Andre Ellington would have helped had he not sat with the knee injury, but I don’t know if his absence cost the Cards the game. Rashard Mendenhall was good again, and Ellington wasn’t going to be able to block the pass rush or prevent Carson Palmer’s two underthrown interceptions.
— Arians wasn’t guaranteeing Ellington’s return against the Rams next week, either. The coach said he was going to be careful with Ellington, and that notion was reiterated post-game Sunday. “We’ll get him right before he plays again,” Arians said.
— Eagles punter Donnie Jones was fantastic. He punted eight times for Philadelphia. Seven were downed inside the 20. Peterson struggled on punt returns again. It’s odd that unit was so strong just a couple of years ago and now it’s a concern – not just because Peterson doesn’t score, but simply because there seems to be more danger of turnovers and bad field position.
— There wasn’t a lot of head hanging, even though this one could sting in the grand scheme of things. “I don’t think we took a step backward,” wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. Said Arians on losing the progress his team has been making, “Progress doesn’t stop because you lost the game.”
Well, there is still a lot of flight left. But we can ponder this more tomorrow.
Tags: Andre Ellington, Bruce Arians, Eagles, Karlos Dansby, Matt Shaughnessy, Nick Foles, Patrick Peterson, Rashard Mendenhall
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