After a 1-3 start to the season, a Cardinals team that won a midweek divisional showdown with the San Francisco 49ers behind the play of backup quarterback Drew Stanton was presented with a golden opportunity Thursday night.
Starter Carson Palmer was back in the lineup, and Arizona had the chance to get its offense in sync and move back to .500 on the year before a critical showdown with the first place Seattle Seahawks.
All that stood in the Cardinals way was a pesky New York Jets team that entered Monday's game leading the NFL in rushing defense and hungry for a victory to hop back into the conversation for a playoff spot.
With its offense lacking rhythm through the first five weeks of the season and its quarterback returning to the field, Arizona needed a strong performance Monday, and that's exactly what it got.
"Overall it was a solid game, we protected the football which we had to do," Cardinals' head coach Bruce Arians said. "Knew they (Jets) were going to play off and just continue to throw in front of them. Carson had the shot when we got them offsides one time but not the plan to try and go in and throw it over the top because we knew that Todd (Bowles) would have it fixed. We thought we could get it in front of them and I thought a couple guys, especially defensively, we were flying around. Best we've looked from the sideline, as far as my perspective, we were fast, and just really pleased with the outcome."
Despite having one of the NFL's top rushing defenses, the Jets boasted one of the league's worst passing defenses entering the Monday night matchup. Nevertheless, Arizona was able to achieve balance on the offensive side of the football, as the team passed exactly 35 times and ran exactly 35 times in a 28-3 victory.
Even with an inexperienced core on the interior of Arizona's offensive line that included a first-time starter in left guard John Wetzel, the Cardinals amassed 171 rushing yards and averaged nearly 5.0 yards per carry.
The highlight of the evening for Arizona on the ground was a 58-yard rushing touchdown by David Johnson that was set up by an outstanding pull from right to left from starting right guard Earl Watford
"I thought this is a heck of a defense to try to run the football against and we accomplished it," Arians said. "Obviously the three guys in the middle had to play pretty good and really proud of the two guards for stepping in. I thought Earl on that touchdown run must have blocked three or four guys, he always thinks he has the ball when he tries to score, but he did a little better with the celebration this week, didn't get knocked down at least."
Palmer finished the night 9-for-10 on intermediate throws between 10 and 19 yards, and only took one deep shot over the top of a Jets defense that has struggled against the pass this year.
After the game, Arians said the Cardinals' offensive structure Monday was built around hitting short to intermediate passes, because he knew Jets' head coach Todd Bowles would try to compensate for the team's troubles in the back end by trying to take that away from Arizona.
"Knew they were going to play off and just continue to throw in front of them," Arians said. "Carson had the shot when we got them offsides one time but not the plan to try and go in and throw it over the top because we knew that Todd (Bowles) would have it fixed. We thought we could get it in front of them and I thought a couple guys, especially defensively, we were flying around. Best we've looked from the sideline, as far as my perspective, we were fast, and just really pleased with the outcome."
Just about everything clicked for the Cardinals' offense Monday, which had yet to score in the first quarter of a game this year before Johnson's long run put the team up 7-0. Ironically, that was all the scoring Arizona would need against a New York offense that never moved the ball with ease against the Cardinals' defense.
"I felt it was an easy game to get calling after awhile," Arians said. "We finally scored it in the first quarter, it was a nice run but it was a 17-play drive and I think a 14-play drive and you have to execute and you have to have good balance to get those done."