Big road win gets Arizona’s playoff hopes back on track

Just when it looked like Arizona’s football season was on the brink of collapse, the team had one of its best performances in a 26-7 win over the New York Giants on Sunday.

The Cardinals (7-6) snapped their three-game losing streak, and now a trip to the playoffs for the first time since 2015 is there for the taking. It’s another example of how quickly emotions can change during an NFL season’s long grind.

“I think our guys feel good about taking a step towards where we want to go, and we just have to continue to build on it,” Arizona coach Kliff Kingsbury said.

Arizona would earn the last wild-card spot in the NFC if the regular season ended today. The Cardinals’ next two games are at home against the Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers before a road finale against the Los Angeles Rams.

Arizona got back to its winning ways on Sunday thanks to a stellar performance by the defense. Linebacker Haason Reddick set a franchise record with five sacks and the Cardinals limited the Giants to just 159 total yards.

Reddick is the latest in a string of unlikely heroes for a defense that has battled injuries all season.

“They have that group mentality where it’s not about who gets there, it’s just about getting there,” Kingsbury said. “It’s been awesome, couldn’t be prouder of Haason and what he’s been able to do.”

Second-year quarterback Kyler Murray was solid against New York, throwing for 244 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. He also ran for 47 yards. But Murray was quick to give credit to the defense for Sunday’s success, adding it wasn’t unexpected.

“That’s who they are,” Murray said. “They are a great defense no matter what anybody says.”

WHAT’S WORKING

Arizona’s pass rush has been way better than expected without 2019 All-Pro linebacker Chandler Jones, who was lost for the season in October because of biceps injury. Reddick, Dennis Gardeck and Markus Golden combined for eight sacks against the Giants in the latest example of the team’s resilience.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

Arizona’s been pretty good in the red zone this season but struggled a bit against the Giants. The Cardinals scored touchdowns in just 2 of 7 trips inside the 20 on Sunday, which kept the game closer than it probably should have been.

STOCK UP

Reddick. It wasn’t long ago that the 26-year-old looked like a bust after being selected with the 13th overall pick in the 2017 draft. But the linebacker has been very good in his fourth season, leading the team with 10 sacks. He’s set to become a free agent after the season and will likely get a big payday from someone, whether it’s the Cardinals or another team. Arizona didn’t pick up his fifth-year option.

STOCK DOWN

WR Andy Isabella. The receiver was inactive for Sunday’s game after veteran Larry Fitzgerald came off the reserve/COVID-19 list. It’s another indication that the 2019 second-round pick hasn’t progressed like the team hoped.

INJURED

DL Jordan Phillips tried to come back against the Giants but almost immediately aggravated his hamstring injury. Kingsbury said on Monday that Phillips wouldn’t be available against the Eagles on Sunday.

KEY NUMBER

37 — Despite missing Jones for most of the season, the Cardinals have 37 sacks, which ranks sixth in the NFL.

NEXT STEPS

The Cardinals got a much-needed win and continue to play important football games. They’re relatively healthy and are coming off a solid game on both offense and defense. It’s a team that doesn’t have much margin for error in the playoff chase, but Arizona has to feel good heading into Sunday’s home game against Philadelphia.

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