It’s not how an offense starts, even if it scores 20 points in the first half, eclipses its total number of first downs from Week 1 (13) by time there’s 10 minutes left in the second quarter and walks into halftime with 31 more yards than it accumulated in all four quarters last week (210) -- just like the Cardinals did Sunday against the New York Giants.
It’s about how games are finished.
The Cardinals jumped out to a 20-0 lead at halftime and, within the first 6 minutes of the third quarter, were up 28-7. Despite noticeable improvement from the season opener, the Cardinals’ offense didn’t finish like it started, contributing to the team's collapse in losing its home opener, 31-28.
The Cardinals’ offense was stagnant the final 24 minutes and 34 seconds. After scoring a touchdown to go up 21 with 9:34 left in the third quarter, Arizona had just three first downs, 3 rushing yards and 70 passing yards. It was 1-of-4 on third downs in the final two quarters after going 3-of-6 in the first half. Arizona had the ball for just 11:28 in the second half compared to 19:09 in the first, leading to the defense to playing almost eight more minutes than it did in the first half.
“We gotta give ourselves a chance to finish by executing, playing the same way that we play throughout the game,” said Dobbs, who finished 21-of-31 for 228 yards and a touchdown. “So, we know the games get tight. That's how the NFL is.”
Or, as coach Jonathan Gannon put it, Sunday was a “tale of two halves.”
Last Wednesday, during his weekly news conference, Dobbs said he felt the improvement on offense was “night and day” compared to the week before. The first half showed proof of that. Arizona’s 241 yards of offense and two offensive touchdowns in the first two quarters -- both more than what was produced in Week 1 -- was the product of a week’s worth of focusing on details that the Cardinals’ struggled with against the Washington Commanders in Week 1, wide receiver Zach Pascal said.
The run game, which was a focal point for Arizona in practice last week, clicked.
Running back James Conner hit 100 yards within the first five minutes of the third quarter thanks to runs of 22 and 21 yards on the Cardinals’ first drive of the second half. He had just 3 yards after that.
“I am really sick to my stomach,” Conner said. “I am hurt. I am not discouraged but I am hurt for sure. We are in this thing together. Our offense put a couple more points up than we did last week. Still wasn’t enough. We didn’t complete the mission.”
Even with everything that happened in the second half, Gannon felt the offense played “well.”
“We ran it. Dobbs I thought threw some good balls in there. Guys are getting open, catching it,” Gannon said. “We even had the one good drive there in the second half, got some of the momentum back and then we couldn't get off the field.
“But I thought [our offense] played really well. They scored 28 points against a pretty good defense there. That's a good day.”
Compared to how the season started it was, but it wasn’t good enough to win on Sunday.
Dobbs didn’t think the offense was tight in the second half after jumping out to a three-touchdown lead. Both he and Gannon praised offensive coordinator Drew Petzing. The offense, Gannon added, “stayed normal” in the second half.
Sunday proved one thing to Dobbs.
“We can compete with anyone,” Dobbs said. “And then, just like I said last week, if we go out, we execute, we do what we say we're gonna do and we do what we're supposed to do, we're a difficult offense to stop.
“We showed that and we'll continue to show that.”
Just like the Cardinals did last week after not scoring an offensive touchdown against the Commanders, they’ll spend the week trying to figure out what went wrong.
Dobbs doesn’t want to look at Sunday’s performance in relation to Week 1’s. Each game is a “microcosm of their own,” he said. But just because the Cardinals’ offense found its legs Sunday and produced like it thought it could, Dobbs doesn’t want his teammates to get complacent, thinking they've found the secret recipe.
“We gotta hit the reset button tomorrow, watch the film, flush it, hit the reset button and get onto the next opponent," Dobbs said.
How they do that will be telling, Pascal said.
“This is gonna determine what type of team we are -- our mentality, our toughness, can we bounce back?” he said. “Or we going to just sit and pout?”