The winless Bengals? The hapless Falcons? The directionless Giants? Who cares, right? That’s an understandable takeaway as the Cardinals ride a three-game winning streak out of the Meadowlands and into New Orleans as 9.5-point underdogs. But for rookie head coach Kliff Kingsbury, those three wins could have provided the edification he needs, as he tries to prove to the NFL, and his locker room, that he belongs.
Sunday’s game was served up on a platter for the “Kliff and Kyler can’t win long-term” crowd. The Giants had Saquan Barkley back, the Cardinals were without David Johnson. It was raining, which was supposed to mean that the lumbering 6’5″ Daniel Jones had the advantage over the vertically-ambiguous Kyler Murray. It was the experienced, seen-everything Pat Shurmur against the new school, losing-record-at-Texas Tech Kliff Kingsbury. But ultimately, Sunday turned out to be the Cardinals’ most impressive win of the season, and a complete narrative changer for their rookie head coach.
The Cardinals jumped on the Giants quickly. Instead of forcing the air-raid concepts Kingsbury’s known for, they featured Chase Edmunds for 27 rushing attempts as rain poured down. Instead of collapsing in the second half after giving up 14 points in the second quarter, the Cardinals forced three fumbles and an interception out of Daniel Jones. Instead of trying to prove Murray’s small frame could handle bad weather, Kingsbury protected him, only asking him to throw 21 times – his lowest mark of the season. Instead of being exposed as one dimensional, Kingsbury gracefully handled adversity.
That’s the crux of why this three game winning streak matters so much. We all know the Bengals, Falcons and Giants stink. So do the players. But Kingsbury needed something, anything, to show his NFL value. He doesn’t have a storied history of winning in college, and he doesn’t bring NFL acumen with him. He tried to show it with cute plays and 10 personnel during his first three games. Then he got his head on straight and ran the ball 38, 29 and 38 times. Wins followed. Maybe now, so will the locker room’s trust.