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Ex-Cards Mendenhall, Rhodes work Hollywood

Posted by Darren Urban on July 6, 2015 – 8:22 am

The Cardinals remain off (as do I) while waiting for the start of training camp at the end of the month, so now is as good a time as any to note a pair of ex-Cards who have transitioned from the NFL to a place both seemed headed for when they were still playing. Both running back Rashard Mendenhall and safety Kerry Rhodes have turned their creative sides into work in TV and film.

Mendenhall, who retired after playing one season in Arizona in 2013, arrived with a reputation of being a thinker. He had a blog on the Huffington Post, he made no secret of his love of reading, books and poetry (including writing it), and he was the kind of person whose early retirement wasn’t a big surprise. Football wasn’t going to be his defining role in life. Although it’s funny that his current work in the TV industry is for the new HBO series “Ballers,” which stars Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and chronicles NFL life, warts and all. Mendenhall would know, and he’s the kind of guy who feels strongly about acknowledging both the good and bad about playing in the league.

Rhodes too always seemed headed down this path. Heck, when he arrived in Arizona as part of the cluster of moves in 2010 when the Cards had to cut safety Antrel Rolle and traded Anquan Boldin, Rhodes came in with the nickname “Hollywood.” It had been given to him by Jets’ teammates, and it wasn’t necessarily meant as a compliment. Rhodes played pretty well during some down seasons — coming off a 2011 injury to be one of the bright spots of a bad 2012 — but when the Cards decided to get younger at safety after that season with a new coaching staff, both he and Adrian Wilson were let go. Rhodes never did play again, moving into the entertainment business and now set to release a documentary called “Gone in an Instant,” which goes over the pro life of former NBA star Antoine Walker and his decent into bankruptcy after a career in which he made $110 million. I’m sure there will be more. This is a guy who knows Channing Tatum of “Magic Mike” and “21 Jump Street” fame well enough that Tatum actually visited a Cardinals’ training camp practice in Flagstaff in 2012 (and appearing on Rhodes’ version of the Big Red Rage.)

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Mendenhall decides to retire

Posted by Darren Urban on March 8, 2014 – 8:34 pm

It felt apparent a couple of weeks ago, when running back Rashard Mendenhall cryptically wrote on his Huffington Post blog about wading through dark waters, closing out by saying, “as I write this, today is the day that the journey is over and I am fully at peace. Eagerly looking to a new way, which lies ahead.” It sounded a lot like a guy who was about to retire. Saturday night, Adam Schefter reported that NFL teams have indeed been informed Mendenhall — a free-agent-to-be come Tuesday — is retiring.

UPDATE: Agent Mike McCartney has confirmed via Twitter that yes, Mendenhall is indeed retiring.

Mendenhall served his purpose in Arizona. He battled knee and toe injuries and wasn’t as effective all of the time that the Cards (and the fans) would have liked. But he served as a good bridge to rookies Andre Ellington and Stepfan Taylor. He did score eight touchdowns. And he came cheaply, one of those bargain one-year deals GM Steve Keim came up with this time last year.

There have been a lot of questions to me about signing a running back, whether it is Ben Tate or Maurice Jones-Drew or Darren Sproles. Sproles makes no sense because you already have that guy in Ellington. Regardless, if the Cards are going to bring in another back — and they still have Ryan Williams in addition to Ellington and Taylor — it might be in the draft. If it is a free agent, it would be a cheap one. This team isn’t going to spend a chunk of money on a back. That’s not the Cards’ philosophy and it’s not one many subscribe to around the league anymore.


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Fits as (potential) free agents

Posted by Darren Urban on February 27, 2014 – 11:37 am

With “official” talks with free agents allowed March 8 and actually agreements allowed March 11, the time when teams will actually be able to start finalizing such things is still more than a week away. Players are dropping off the “He’s going to be a free agent” list daily, like with the litany of Philadelphia Eagles who have signed extensions the past couple of days. That can still happen to any of these potential free agents being talked about.

It hasn’t cooled the speculation, however. Greg Bedard of SI.com’s MMQB ranked the top 100 free-agents-to-be and also listed what he thought would be the best fits. The Cardinals find themselves mentioned a few times.

— The only current Cardinal scheduled to be a free agent that made the list was linebacker Karlos Dansby. He was at No. 34. Not surprisingly, Bedard’s call for Dansby’s best fit was remaining with the Cardinals. I agree with that. Not only does the system best fit Karlos, but so does his working relationship next to Daryl Washington.

— There are three left tackles on the list from other teams: Kansas City’s Branden Albert (No. 7), Baltimore’s Eugene Monroe (No. 8) and Cincinnati’s Anthony Collins (No. 60). For both Albert and Collins, the Cardinals are listed as the best fit and the Cards are also noted for Monroe along with Miami. Obviously the Cardinals would sign more than one, but it’s obvious to the NFL world this team should be a landing spot for at least one. It will definitely be one of the more intriguing storylines of that first week (or less) of free agency.

— Packers DE/OLB Mike Neal was 95th on the list and the Cards were called his best fit. Neal’s name has already been floated as a potential Arizona target. It makes all the sense in the world if Matt Shaughnessy leaves as a free agent.

— In the most surprising post, for Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew, 57th on the list, the Cards are called the best fit. I get it with the possibility free agent Rashard Mendenhall might not return. But the way Bruce Arians and Steve Keim think about running backs, and with Ryan Williams and Stepfan Taylor still around along with Andre Ellington (and we aren’t even talking about someone popping up draft-wise) I don’t see the Cards even thinking about a guy like MJD. Or more specifically, his price tag.

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Mendenhall’s cryptic post and retirement?

Posted by Darren Urban on February 25, 2014 – 12:12 pm

Running back Rashard Mendenhall is going to be a free agent. He’s coming off a season in which he gained 687 yards on 217 carries, a sub-par 3.2 yards a carry. But he scored eight touchdowns, he had to fight through various injuries, and he had a big backer in coach Bruce Arians.

Mendenhall is also a writer. He frequently writes poetry and he also contributes to the Huffington Post. Today he posted (and then tweeted out) a piece called “The Vision.” It’s about Rashard having a vision while sitting on his couch once upon a time, and at the end of the post he notes it was the day after he tore knee ligaments. He talks about having to swim in dark waters towards “The Blessed Mother” even though he did not grow up Catholic.

“Through it all, I knew that after much toil — after I was all out of breath from the arduous swim, after my entire body felt fatigued from unceasing stroking, after I had evaded whatever distant creatures were peering and plotting attack — that undoubtedly I would reach her,” Mendenhall wrote. “And that once I had, this particular journey would be over for good. I would finally be at peace. Soon after to embark on a new voyage, hardened from the experience, and no longer alone, but with light by my side.

“That day I sat on my couch two years ago was the very next day after I tore my ACL in week 17. The journey I envisioned is the two years of rebuilding that would follow. And as I write this, today is the day that the journey is over and I am fully at peace. Eagerly looking to a new way, which lies ahead.”

Interesting, and even moreso when Mendenhall tweeted out an additional message:

There are different ways to interpret it, but certainly, retirement could be one of them. “The journey is over” certainly could mean his career. It of course could mean he’s finally past his injuries and ready to play full speed again, but that doesn’t ring as true. “I am fully at peace” doesn’t sound like a guy ready to head back into the gauntlet of the NFL.


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Cardinals, the roster, and target areas

Posted by Darren Urban on January 27, 2014 – 11:33 am

Every time General Manager Steve Keim talks about his roster, he talks about looking to improve everywhere. That’s always the default. While the Cardinals probably need, say, offensive linemen or tight ends more than, running backs, you don’t turn down chances to upgrade your team at any position. (As for the latest talk-radio conversation about quarterback, I feel confident that a) Carson Palmer is going to be the starter in 2014 and b) if Keim has a QB sitting on the board in the draft that he really, really likes — whenever that is — the Cardinals will likely take him.)

All that said, there are spots that need addressing just for the sheer numbers. I’ve already posted this once, but below is a link to a roster breakdown done right after the season. It has changed a bit — punter Dave Zastudil has re-signed by now — but the rest of the contract situations remain the same. Keim has a little more than six weeks before contracts officially expire. In terms of strictly numbers, here are how impending free agency impacts the positions (not including all the futures deals/low-end free agents that have signed):

— QB: Cards are fine with all three guys under contract. You’d expect a fourth camp arm to sign if one isn’t drafted.

— RB: Rashard Mendenhall is unrestricted and plays a big role, although if the Cards rode Andre Ellington/Stepfan Taylor in 2014, no one would be surprised.

— WR: Assuming the Cards can get comfortable (if they aren’t already) with Fitz’s contract, the position is probably OK. They need to add someone if Andre Roberts leaves as a free agent, but they can ride with Floyd/Fitz as a top two.

— TE: A major question. Only Rob Housler is under contract for next season. This has got to be a spot where the Cards draft, right?

— OL: Upgrades are necessary and will happen, but as of now, only Eric Winston is a free agent of guys who played at all.

— DL: Need depth here. Do you bring Frostee Rucker back? And that rehab needed for Alameda Ta’amu’s ACL tear hurts the team as much as Ta’amu.

— LB: It’s hard not to notice two starters in Karlos Dansby and Matt Shaughnessy who could potentially walk away.

— DB: The Cards could probably use another young safety, although they may be in good shape if Tony Jefferson can step forward. But what about cornerback, with Tyrann Mathieu coming back from injury and Javier Arenas/Antoine Cason/Bryan McCann scheduled to be free agents. Depth is needed there. It’ll be interesting to see if Justin Bethel ends up playing a bigger defensive role.

— Specialists: Zastudil is back. We’ll see what the Cardinals do at kicker and impending FA Jay Feely.

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The future, and breaking down the roster

Posted by Darren Urban on January 2, 2014 – 10:58 am

This time around, the Cardinals aren’t going to be looking for a coach or general manager, so this early part of the offseason figures to be much more quiet than it was in January of 2013. But there is still plenty for GM Steve Keim and his people to work on, because the combine is in less than two months, free agency is soon after that, and it’s time to focus on what the offseason roster in 2014 will look like.

That starts, of course, with figuring out what they liked and didn’t like with the roster from 2013. It also comes down to budget, and contracts, and how many of these unrestricted free agents-to-be want to come back to Arizona based on the deals Keim wants to/is willing to offer. These are not always simple solutions but it is why Keim, as they say, earns the big bucks. When I talked to Keim as early as the week in Florida prior to the Week 4 game at Tampa, Keim was already acknowledging the work that had to go into this offseason.

“There are going to be some tough decisions to be made after the season based on the numbers, just looking at the three-year view,” Keim said then. “We will obviously have to make some tough decisions like we did this past year after the season. The one thing fans and other people don’t realize (is) there are certain contracts that bind you and you can’t do anything (with) and you have the dead money factor.

“Once we get to 2015 I feel really good where we are going to be from a salary-cap standpoint.”

With that all in mind, here is my annual roster breakdown, with most players by position, when their contracts expires and a quick comment on each. There are a lot of choices to be made, and not just by Keim. If you are Karlos Dansby, for instance, do you like the scheme Todd Bowles has put you in — and like playing next to someone like Daryl Washington enough — to want to stay? Money, as always, talks. Dansby did not get the kind of interest he expected last offseason in the market. He had a better year this season, but will that translate for a player who will be 33? These are the things the Cardinals, and Dansby, must balance.

The Larry Fitzgerald situation, and a looming $18 million salary cap number, is another touchpoint. The Cardinals really need to get it lower. How they can work with Fitzgerald on that impacts a lot of things, including, for instance, any potential Patrick Peterson contract extension. When you start mulling all these numbers, you start seeing why Keim is targeting 2015 for salary cap comfort.

There are other key things the Cards must look at roster-wise, aside from the draft. Other key free agents like Matt Shaughnessy, Rashard Mendenhall or Andre Roberts. Other contracts, like perhaps those of Daryn Colledge or Darnell Dockett. Other issues, like the long-term rehab of Tyrann Mathieu and Alameda Ta’amu, or a possible suspension of Daryl Washington, and whether absences at the beginning of the season could make a difference on who is needed on the roster for depth.

The offseason is just beginning. So too is the job of the Cardinals to get ready for 2014.

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Seahawks aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on December 22, 2013 – 9:59 pm

It was a must-win game and everyone knew that. The playoffs were only possible with a victory, and the Cards got that. But it felt like more. For all the success the Cardinals had this season, there was a reason Bruce Arians called the trip to Seattle a barometer. Were the Cardinals in purgatory, a good team but a notch below Seattle and San Francisco? Now we have an answer.

It’s a far cry from the 58-0 pasting from a year ago. Everyone knew that wasn’t going to happen again. Last year’s team was out of it by the time it got to Seattle and that played a major role in last year’s meltdown. This team is in a totally different place. This team believes it can win. This team is confident enough to bring Skittles to the sideline – the favorite treat of Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch – and break them out (picture below) at the end of a rugged victory in which Lynch was neutralized in the second half.

Arians downplayed last year’s game in Seattle, but he slipped in a postgame reference: “I guess we are 66 points better than last year,” Arians quipped. The math says it was really 65, but you get the point.

— “Any time you come on the road and a team beats you 58-0 and you’ve got to go back to their place, it lingers in the back of your head,” defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said. “If you’ve got any pride or care about football, when a team beats you 58-0, you think about it. And it stuck with us. People ask, ‘You get a butt-whupping, does it stay on you a while?’ That one stayed on us for a whole year. We were determined not to let that ever happen again.”

— Playoff update, in a nutshell: If the 49ers win Monday night, the Cards have to win against San Francisco next week and hope the Saints lose – at home – to Tampa Bay. If the 49ers lose Monday night, the winner of Arizona and San Francisco is in the playoffs.

— Carson Palmer has thrown at least three interceptions in a game twice this season. He is 2-0 in those games. Sunday, he beat the Seahawks with four picks. And he beat the Panthers with three.

— Palmer was not on target most of the game. He threw too many interceptions. But he never should’ve been benched, despite what seemed like a constant call from the fanbase. He wasn’t the main reason the Cards won Sunday but he was a reason when he piloted the final drive. And he’s been good enough to win 10 games.

— Defensively, the Cardinals were outstanding. I am of the belief Russell Wilson is an MVP candidate and the Cards made him look very much like an overwhelmed second-year quarterback Sunday.

— Of the Seahawks’ 14 possessions, 12 were of four plays or fewer. Nine gained nine yards or less.

— The Seahawks had won 26 straight games – dating back to 2001 – when they forced at least four turnovers. Until Sunday.

— So a Washington state lawmaker decided to tweet out (since deleted, of course) that the Seahawks’ loss to the Cardinals was worse because the state is a “racist wasteland.” Alrighty then.

Oh, here’s the radio call of Spanish play-by-play voice Gabriel Trujillo on Michael Floyd’s touchdown.

— Linebacker Karlos Dansby had six tackles, missed one early interception but made the big one at the end, and postgame was classic Karlos. “I am putting my name in the hat. Defensive player of the year,” he said. “You are looking at him. No one is playing better. That is how I feel. I am going to hang my hat on that. I am going to go out there and make my statements and I put one out today.”

— The officials weren’t on their ‘A’ game again. Both teams had issues. The Cardinals shouldn’t have had a first-and-20 after Frostee Rucker’s unsportsmanlike penalty after a kickoff, and they certainly weren’t happy with the flag on the extra point that negated a Seahawks miss. The Seahawks didn’t like, among other things, the Rashard Mendenhall fumble-that-wasn’t or the final Dansby did-it-hit-Baldwin’s-arm-or-the-ground interception.

— The offensive line, I thought, played pretty well. They opened up lanes on the ground and the Cardinals ran the ball well. The game was won up front on both sides. That’s something the defensive line has come to expect. The offensive line, that’s a nice victory.

The postseason may be out of their hands, but Sunday will make Christmas be a little bit nicer for the Cards.

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Keim talks potential contract extensions

Posted by Darren Urban on December 9, 2013 – 8:25 am

The Cardinals have a lot of players — and key ones at that — who are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents in March. Among those whose contracts will expire: Karlos Dansby, Matt Shaughnessy, Eric Winston, Yeremiah Bell, Frostee Rucker, Javier Arenas, Antoine Cason and Rashard Mendenhall. (For those wondering, John Abraham signed a two-year contract.)

The Cardinals will have varying degrees of interest in bringing each of those guys back. And again, I’m sure the deals will have to fit the Cards’ philosophy. The wheeling and dealing General Manager Steve Keim did in the offseason to bring in so many short-term vets had an upside that it worked for the Cards and the salary cap yet quickly rehabbed the roster. The downside is this. A player has a good year, and he has some leverage to take to the open market (See Dansby, Karlos.)

But Keim said during his weekly radio appearance on the “Doug and Wolf show” on Arizona Sports 620 that he has already begun the process of trying to get some extensions done. Keim didn’t name names.

“We are going to aggressively approach several of these guys,” Keim said. “I have already to some degree. We are going to try and put something in place to try to keep some continuity here, particularly for the guys who are playing well. But in some regard, the fans and media are going to have to understand, sometimes the market dictates what happens.The agents and the players sometimes want to see what’s out there.”

Translation: Some of these guys are gonna want to get paid. Dansby, for instance. Asked last night about getting a new contract. “Why not?” Dansby said. “I can do this three, four, five more years. I am playing at a high level right now and I don’t see anyone outplaying me right now.”

That doesn’t sound like a guy willing to play for $2.25 million like he is this season. But we will see. And even if he might want to make it work in Arizona — and I do think ‘Los would like to stay — it might behoove him to wait to see what other teams want to pony up. Last offseason was ugly for most of the vets listed above when no one came knocking on their door offering what they wanted. I’m sure they’d like to see what is out there one more time. So it could be tough to get many deals pre-March done.

“We just have to be smart about the deals we put in place with the cap situation and make good decisions,” Keim said. “But we will definitely be aggressive in addressing some of the players we feel are core guys.”


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Friday before the Rams

Posted by Darren Urban on December 6, 2013 – 3:03 pm

It’s hard to get away from what is the main storyline for Sunday: Is Carson Palmer going to be the quarterback?

Coach Bruce Arians sounded pretty confident Friday talking about it and was in a pretty good mood too after practice. If the key starting QB had been hurt in this way under the old regime, playing or not, you could usually tell on the face of former coach Ken Whisenhunt. But Arians is a true believer in next man up – he was the same way with Andre Ellington’s injury on Thanksgiving – and he does have Drew Stanton, a man to whom Arians was prepared to start before the Palmer trade happened.

And again, Palmer may indeed be playing and the limited work all week comes down to making sure the vet was rested. I did think it was interesting that Arians made it clear that he thought the two interceptions Palmer threw had nothing to do with a sore elbow. And Palmer, who was hurt on his first drop-back in Philly, did throw for 302 yards and three touchdowns after that.

The Cards need Palmer. That’s no slight to Stanton but instead the acknowledgement that for whatever issues Palmer has had with turnovers this season, the offense has clicked a lot more of late and that is necessary going into a crucial game with the Rams Sunday.

— The Cardinals will have Andre Ellington back and that’s a huge deal. Pairing him with an improving Rashard Mendenhall means the Cardinals have a formidable tandem with which to run – meaning that whether you have Palmer and an iffy elbow or Stanton playing QB, the Cards have good options on offense upon which to lean.

— It’s been an eternity since the Cards went to St. Louis to play. “It’s funny to watch them on film,” Palmer said. “It seems so long ago.” What doesn’t seem so long ago was the loss incurred that day – because the eventual 27-24 decision in which the Cardinals led by 11 in the fourth quarter is hurting the team big right now in the playoff chase. The swing that would have happened in the overall, conference and division records would have been momentous.

— Eagles tight ends Zach Ertz and Brent Celek scored three touchdowns last week against Arizona, and we know all about tight end issues against the Cards’ defense (remember St. Louis’ Jared Cook in Week One, getting it started?) There’s a give-and-take there, though.

“Going into a ballgame, you try to take away (LeSean) McCoy, try to take away (Desean) Jackson, try to take away (Riley) Cooper, and you try to maintain and limit what the tight ends can do,” defensive coordinator Todd Bowles said. “You don’t let the big three beat you. We accomplished that. The tight ends got loose for a couple balls inside the red zone. I think we need to play better red zone coverage. The 24-yard touchdown pass there was some technical issues we need to clean up. But going into the game, (tight end) was probably fourth on the totem pole.”

Said linebacker Daryl Washington on the tight end subject, “I think it’s a small adjustment. I don’t think it’s a major issue.”

— I don’t think there is any question that as good as Cook was the first time around, the Cardinals are going to want to make sure Tavon Austin and Chris Givens don’t break off big plays. So we’ll see how that develops when it comes to Cook.

— Speaking of Washington, remember, he didn’t play the first time these teams met. That would seem to be a major factor in the Cards’ favor.

— No one is going out on a limb here, but Eric Winston vs. Chris Long and Robert Quinn vs. Bradley Sowell matchups are probably the key to the game.

— Speaking of the offensive line, the Cardinals used Bobby Massie for 11 offensive snaps last week in Philly as a jumbo tight end in running packages. I don’t think Massie would ever be thrown a pass — “I’m athletic enough to do anything,” Massie said with a smile – but his presence has helped the running game.

“It’s a good thing getting a chance to play,” Massie said. “It’s better than standing on the sideline watching.”

Until Sunday …


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Eagles aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on December 1, 2013 – 6:29 pm

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.


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