The journey felt different. The destination was exactly the same.
In a world of black-and-white analysis, the end result was the same. The Cardinals lost a game they could have won, 27-24 to the Rams. For some, that is all that matters and perhaps that's the way it should be.
But how they got there -- at times -- had a different feel to it. It's like driving to work but taking a different freeway, a different side street, stopping at a different Starbucks on the way.
Carson Palmer's play was the most noticeable difference. He was accurate, got the ball downfield in the "chunk" plays preferred by Bruce Arians. He employed all his top targets, getting circus catches from Michael Floyd and hard-nosed ones from Andre Roberts (who had a crazy good game). And like an astronaut who's been in Cryo-Freeze for a year, Larry Fitzgerald was awake, aware and involved.
It wasn't just Palmer. Tyrann Mathieu has carried over his playmaking ways from training camp to the regular season; so far it's the reward over the risk in a rout. The defense has made forcing turnovers a priority and between Mathieu's poke and Dan Williams' pick, the Cards produced the desired results. Make no mistake; there were parts of this Cards performance that felt fresh and new.
So how, despite their brand new GPS system and an 11-point fourth quarter lead, did the Cardinals wind up in exactly the same place?
Start with left tackle Levi Brown. Robert Quinn stole his lunch, ate it right in front of him and then demanded tomorrow's lunch too. There were moments when Brown handled the Rams defensive end and others when Bruce Arians dispatched plenty of help. But when Quinn got outside of Levi, Palmer's life expectancy was cut in half. Quinn's three sacks were game changers and yet not enough to warrant a change according to the coach. We'll see how long that lasts.
Jared Cook's huge game highlighted the gaping hole in the defense created by Daryl Washington's absence. Arians and Palmer aggressively moved the Cardinals into position to add points at the end of the first half but Jay Feely missed a 50-yard field goal. Clearly those three points would've come in handy. Despite a mostly optimistic debut, the offense bogged down in the fourth. At times, the defense delivered, but the lack of pressure stood out. And along those lines, John Abraham did not stand out...at all. I haven't seen the numbers but I can't imagine he was in on many plays and I haven't heard an explanation as to why.
The Cardinals showed you just enough to be intrigued and just enough to be concerned.