EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - As a reflection of how the regular season began Sunday for the Arizona Cardinals, coach Dennis Green thought his team’s “most determined play” was quarterback Josh McCown’s tackle of New York defensive back Frank Walker after a late fourth-quarter interception.
That Green noted a takedown by the backup quarterback playing during a mop-up role said a lot about his feelings after a disappointing 42-19 loss at Giants Stadium.
Those issues with the running game? Still there in all their glory, after the Cards had a mere 31 yards on 21 carries — and were led by the 11 yards gained by their most reluctant runner, quarterback Kurt Warner.
Special teams, a part of the game Green specifically targeted for improvement in the offseason, gave up both a kickoff return and a punt return for a touchdown.
The Cardinals kept insisting their preseason problems wouldn't carry over to the regular season. To start well in New York, “we felt we had the right recipe,” said receiver Larry Fitzgerald.
The dish certainly didn’t taste very good when it was done.
The Cardinals hadn’t given up as many points since a 50-14 loss to San Francisco, Dec. 7, 2003, predating Green’s hire.
The first half certainly didn’t give any hints, and linebacker Karlos Dansby’s two-interception, one-sack opening half led the Cards to a 13-7 halftime lead.
Arizona’s offense was doing just enough. But the meltdown came quickly.
“Like Coach said, we came out and played ball like it’s supposed to be played in the first half,” said rookie running back J.J. Arrington, who had only 5 yards on eight carries. “We didn’t do that in the second half.
“I’ve never seen a game switch like that.”
The Giants opened the second half by picking on cornerback David Macklin — who teams had targeted in the preseason — and throwing a jump ball to 6-foot-5 receiver Plaxico Burress for a 44-yard gain, setting up a Brandon Jacobs touchdown run.
The next Cardinals play, Warner threw a terrible pass, and the attempt well short of Fitzgerald was intercepted by safety Gibril Wilson. New York’s Tiki Barber ran for a 21-yard TD on the next play, and the Giants had a 21-13 lead.
The Cardinals answered with a touchdown drive but failed on a two-point conversion, and when the Giants’ Willie Ponder returned the ensuing kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown, the game — and the hope for a good start — was officially trashed.
On a day when New Yorkers remembered their fallen heroes on the fourth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, “there was no way we were going to lose at home on this date for this great city and these great people,” Giants coach Tom Coughlin said.
It was tough for the Cardinals to see it that way.
The running game's woes, which have been emerging as a problem area since the first preseason outing, were glaring. Green got defensive when it was brought up afterward, but even he lamented missed scoring chances late in the first half when Warner was sacked in field-goal range.
“We were probably throwing too much at that (point),” Green said.
Warner was more blunt about the imbalance on offense.
“It’s just not the way to win football games in the NFL,” said Warner, who completed 27-of-46 passes for 264 yards before McCown was brought in for the final five minutes.
Fitzgerald set career highs with his 13 catches for 155 yards, no surprise with how much the Cards were slinging it around the field. On the other statistical end was Giants quarterback Eli Manning, who mostly struggled with his 10-for-23, two-interception day.
But Manning did complete two touchdown passes, the Giants made almost all the big plays, and the Cardinals head into their home opener next week against St. Louis needing a win.
“Guys are upset right now and everyone has their own opinion of what happened out there,” defensive tackle Russell Davis said. “But the bottom line is we have to go back to work.”
Added safety Robert Griffith, “I know Denny. Ain’t no ‘Woe is me’ with him.”