Confidence is an important asset in every NFL locker room, but perhaps the Arizona Cardinals had too much of it entering their season-opener against the New England Patriots.
Without Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, and a handful of other key pieces, the Jimmy Garoppolo-led Patriots stunned Arizona at home winning 23-21 after a missed field goal doomed the Cardinals in the final minute.
Arizona safety Tyrann Mathieu was candid about the loss after Wednesday's practice, suggesting Bill Belichick's team prepared for the moment better than the Cardinals did.
"That was the toughest part, just seemed like those guys were a little bit more prepared than us, they obviously played faster than us, we just didn't make enough plays."
New England executed a clear and decisive offensive game plan and consistently defeated Arizona in third down situations, which upset Cardinals' head coach Bruce Arians who commented on the Patriots' third down success (New England was 10-for-16 on third down) immediately after Sunday's game and again after Wednesday's practice.
"Your defense needs to get off the field," Arians said. "I'm not a big time of possession person, it's production time and if they're out there a long time and they're scoring points, that's production. Defensively you have to get them in third down and ones that you can win."
Arizona's secondary struggled against the Patriots' out routes, slants and crossing patterns as nickel cornerback Tyvon Branch and rookie corner Brandon Williams were targeted throughout the contest. New England even had success on two different third down plays targeting the normally-stout Mathieu, who played in more of a single-high safety role than he's accustomed to because he's still recovering from a torn ACL last December.
"Still trying to get better, I didn't feel like I was in any position to make any impact plays, we feel like they kept most of our playmakers out of the football game. So like I said, they were really prepared for us."
There are no must-win games early in the season, but Arizona's upcoming contest against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers may be as close to that category as it gets for a team with Super Bowl aspirations.
The Cardinals believe their championship window is still open, and after falling to New England at home, Arizona has a second consecutive home matchup against a conference opponent looking to improve to 2-0.
"Obviously we lost a football game, we missed a lot of opportunities we feel like we gave them a couple touchdowns, obviously something we can learn from, we'll definitely grow from it, so we're onto next week," Mathieu said.
The "onto next week" mantra is the same approach Belichick's teams take after wins and losses, and both Arians and quarterback Carson Palmer indicated Arizona was off to a good start to the week following Wednesday's practice.
Arians indicated his team understands the magnitude of the moment, especially considering the way Tampa Bay impressed in its 31-24 victory over Atlanta on the road last week.
"Really good start to the week, I like the way our guys bounced back and practiced," Arians said. "They know the challenge that is ahead of them right now, a really good football team coming in here. A team that has a lot of confidence and it should after beating a really good team on the road last week."
Palmer said Wednesday's practice was more physical than the Cardinals have practiced of late, which could be the result of frustration stemming from a loss in a game Arizona anticipated a win.
"It was one of the louder practices as far as pad-smashing," Palmer said. "We started off in a run drill and we got a great look from our show team today. It was a very physical practice which is good, it's a very focused group right now and very determined to take care of business this weekend."
Mathieu echoed Palmer's sentiments, but said regardless of how Arizona shows up to practice during the week, the Cardinals need to bring a business-like mentality to the stadium on Sunday.
"Anytime you lose, you approach the next week different. So everybody was serious today, but we don't play football on Wednesdays, we play football on Sundays. We just have to have that same mindset, that same attitude come Sunday. The Buccaneers are a physical football team, they're going to run the ball down our throat, they feel like they have a good quarterback and we feel like they have a really good quarterback who can make every throw so we're going to get challenged up front and on the back end."
Aside from excellent performances from quarterback Jameis Winston and wide receiver Mike Evans, the Buccaneers also received an impressive outing from linebacker Kwon Alexander who finished with 17 tackles.
Under first-year head coach Dirk Koetter, who coached locally at Arizona State, Tampa Bay made an impression on Palmer who highlighted the Buccaneers' team speed.
"Very good defense, very well coached, fast linebackers, fast in the secondary, pass rushing four guys that can rush the passer," Palmer said. "Just a very good group, very well coached, some young guys but also some very experienced guys at the right spots. Great leadership you can tell, just a great defense."
After Sunday's contest, Arizona will have played 25 percent of its home schedule. Though the Cardinals can aid their overall record with six games against division foes that looked largely underwhelming in week one, every home game represents an important opportunity for the Cardinals to improve their standing.
"We're very focused on Tampa (Bay), it is what it is, you can't dwell on it," Palmer said. "It's Wednesday of Tampa week, it stings but you've got to get past it."null