GLENDALE, Ariz. - It is a widely accepted fact that the third preseason game is the one that "counts" the most.
For the Arizona Cardinals, it's a good thing the final score doesn't really mean much.
The 24-7 defeat at the hands of the San Diego Chargers will surely be overshadowed by the loss of rookie guard Jonathan Cooper, who broke his left leg and may be out for the season. But at the same time, the team must move on without him.
They'll also want to move on from this game, but not before taking it out back and shooting it. Then drowning it. Then hanging it. Then lighting it on fire. Then shooting it again.
Because if the Cardinals' first preseason game was good and the second one was average, this one was nothing short of a disaster.
Dropped passes, penalties, blocked kicks, re-gifted turnovers and mental mistakes were rampant Saturday night, and that unsurprisingly did nothing to please head coach Bruce Arians.
"Obviously it was a performance that you don't ever really want to see," Arians said. "We talk about being a smart football team and that's probably the dumbest first 30 minutes of football I've ever seen."
The final 30 were a little better, but overall this is one the Cardinals would just as soon forget. And there wasn't any one player or group to blame. There were mistakes on offense, defense and special teams.
So, maybe, it's easier to stomach because the Cardinals were so unbelievably bad one can't help but think this was an aberration. After all, given what everyone's seen from this team up to this point, a game like this one was difficult to predict.
"Today, we'd take one step forward and two steps back, it felt like, the whole day," receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. "Obviously, we have to get that corrected going into St. Louis."
And there it is, the saving grace. Because for all that went wrong in this one, it was a preseason game and will not factor into how this team's 2013 season is remembered. The September 8 opener against the Rams is still a couple weeks away, and that is the game the Cardinals are focused on.
But that does not mean they will ignore what happened against San Diego. Saying he thought the running game was one of the few positives, Arians talked about the message he has for his team after a game like this.
"Don't do it again," he said. "Please don't do it again like that.
"Learn from it and come back and go to work. It was a preseason game and these are nice things to learn from. But we're not going to get 53 new guys and start over."