After a disappointing loss to the Carolina Panthers in the NFC Championship game last season, one of the improvements the Arizona Cardinals vowed to make was with their special teams units.
General manager Steve Keim and head coach Bruce Arians wanted to see improvements on coverage and return units, and wanted to hold the status quo with the team's field goal kicking unit. In Sunday's 23-21 season-opening loss to the New England Patriots, the Cardinals learned just how far they have to go to achieve those goals.
"We didn't really play well enough in any phase, special teams, offense or defense, to win this game although we still had a chance at the end," Arians said. "Didn't execute our snap, hold and kick to win the game. It all starts with me, it starts at the top and we obviously were not ready to play, they outplayed us, and we'll learn from it and grow from it. There's a long way to go. Regroup and see if we can win one next week."
Trailing 23-21, Arizona gained possession with 3:44 remaining in the fourth quarter and quarterback Carson Palmer engineered a potential game-winning drive that left the Cardinals in position to attempt a 47-yard go-ahead field goal with 41 seconds left in the contest.
When veteran Chandler Catanzaro took to the field, rookie long snapper Kameron Canaday left his snap low and holder Drew Butler couldn't dig it out well enough for Catanzaro to get his timing right. The Clemson product hooked the kick to the left of the uprights, and the Cardinals let a winnable game against one of the NFL's premier franchises slip away.
"This game falls on my shoulders," Catanzaro said. "I appreciate the opportunity the offense gave me, they did a great job down the field but I've got to make a kick."
Like Catanzaro, Canaday also took the blame for the late miscue that wound up costing Arizona.
The 6-foot-4 rookie out of Portland State won the long snapping job during preseason camp vacated by 15-year veteran Mike Leach who retired this offseason. Canaday was perfect throughout the preseason and snapped well throughout the contest Sunday, but when it came down to crunch time, he left his final snap of the game too low.
"No, it was a little low," Canaday said of the snap after the game. "I wish I could take it back, but I can't. Just going to have to move forward and focus on next week and improving."
Arizona's offense nearly didn't present the field goal unit with an opportunity to attempt a kick, as the Cardinals were backed up with a 3rd and 23 situation at the Patriots 47-yard line with just over a minute to go. On third down, though, Palmer found wide receiver Jaron Brown on what looked like a deep crossing route and Brown secured possession inside the New England 30-yard line.
With 41 seconds to play, the Patriots elected to take their final timeout, forcing the Cardinals to bring their field goal unit on for what could have been a game-winning kick.
"Just a great opportunity, the offense set us up with a great opportunity to make a game-winning field goal and just didn't get it done tonight," Canaday said.
Catanzaro said after the game the blame for the Cardinals' failed execution shouldn't fall on the shoulders of Canaday, and instead accepted the blame himself. Arizona's kicker was perfect inside of 45 yards a season ago, but made just one kick beyond 45 yards in four attempts last season.
"It was a low snap," Arians said. "Not a terribly low snap, but Drew (Butler) got it down and he (Catanzaro) pulled it."