Alvira – Defense shines, Hopkins impactful in Cardinals win over Saints

Arizona Cardinals cornerback Marco Wilson leaps into the end zone(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

By Zach Alvira

The Arizona Cardinals needed a spark tied at 14 with the New Orleans Saints in the waning moments of the first half Thursday night.

Defensive back Marco Wilson answered the call with a 38-yard pick-6 on a pass from Saints quarterback Andy Dalton. Then, on the Saints ensuing drive, linebacker Isaiah Simmons made a leaping one-handed interception in which he returned 58 yards for another touchdown.

The two defensive scores put the Cardinals in control of the game in a matter of moments. They let that momentum carry them the rest of the way as they secured the win over the Saints, 42-34.

“We needed it,” Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury said of the defensive effort against the Saints. “Defense did a great job. (Antonio Hamilton) made a great play in the end zone to keep them out, and those back-to-backs really turned it into our tide, and for the first time all season, we played with a lead and leaned on it. It definitely helped.”

The defensive effort in the final 3 minutes of the first half came after it struggled early on.

Wilson was beaten on a post route by Saints wideout Rashid Shaheed. Dalton hit him in stride, and Shaheed dragged Wilson three yards into the end zone for a 53-yard score. The Saints were also able to capitalize on three straight third downs as wideouts, and specifically, Chris Olave, found holes in the secondary.

But the Cardinals defense quickly found its footing to force three interceptions in the first half. The turnovers sparked the offense as they went on a 13-play, 75-yard drive in the second half and found the end zone for the first time in two weeks. Running back Keaontay Ingram, who had an expanded role Thursday night, capped off the drive with a 2-yard score.

“I thought it was good, I thought it was better,” Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray said. “There’s some things I wish I could’ve done better, throws that I missed or could’ve pulled the trigger on. But we’ll be better.”

The Cardinals started slowly in the second half, punting on their first two possessions. But a 12-play, 85-yard drive quickly followed as the offense took on a balanced approach to move down the field methodically.

Murray was in rhythm with his wideouts, most notably DeAndre Hopkins, in his first action of the season coming off the six-game suspension. Running back Eno Benjamin, taking over lead-back duties with James Conner sidelined with a rib injury, looked the part of a starting running back in the NFL.

Murray capped off the long drive with a 5-yard pass to Greg Dortch – his only reception of the game. Later in the fourth, another long drive resulted in a 5-yard plunge from Benjamin.

The former Sun Devil finished with 12 carries for 92 yards and a touchdown. Murray completed 20 of his 29 pass attempts for 204 yards and a touchdown. He said postgame it was a better performance than the debacle that took place last week in Seattle, but there’s still more work to be done.

“I thought offensively we took some strides today,” Murray said. “Again, there’s some things that we could’ve done better. But better than what we’ve been, for sure.”

The Saints managed to cut into Arizona’s lead, but the Cardinals never lost control of the game. Dalton finished 30-of-47 for 361 yards and four touchdowns.

Leading up to Thursday’s contest in primetime, Murray said the Hopkins’ return wouldn’t fix the issues the offense had. But his presence allowed it to flourish.

It was a different look and feel to a unit that could not find the end zone just a week prior. And Hopkins appeared to quickly knock off any rust he had entering his first game of the season early as he caught 10 passes for 103 yards.

“Spent a lot of time in the offseason preparing for this moment,” Hopkins said. “I think today obviously was a success. The main goal was to win … I think reads are easier with Kyler. Not saying they aren’t for other players. But he and I have been playing with each other for a couple of years now.

“We had some mishaps today, but that’s going to come with us not being able to practice on a short week. Him and I, we want to win. We try to correct those things as we go.”

The win put the Cardinals back in the win column ahead of a 10-day break before traveling to face Minnesota next Sunday. It also snapped an eight-game home losing streak.

The 42 points from the Cardinals were the most in the Kingsbury era. It was also the most points scored by the team since Week 17 of the 2016 season when they beat the Rams 44-6.

Overall, it showed what the offense – and defense – is capable of with more weapons at their disposal.

“Excited for the guys, no doubt,” Kingsbury said. “Especially to do it coming off a couple losses and going into a longer time off before the game, I think it really came at a good time.”