NEW ORLEANS -- The shift started on a third down late in the first quarter.
Until then, the Arizona Cardinals looked smooth as their offense produced a nearly flawless opening drive that quieted the Superdome crowd, momentarily taking the air out of the New Orleans Saints’ rowdies. Arizona’s 31-7 loss to the Saints began with the Cardinals taking a 7-0 lead. The Saints responded, tying the game on their first possession, and then it happened.
On third down from the Cardinals' 28-yard line, quarterback Carson Palmer looked to rookie running back Stepfan Taylor. They needed three yards to convert their third third down of the quarter, instead Taylor ran a two-yard route.
Arizona punted. And punted. And punted.
The Cardinals’ offense slowed to a grinding halt starting with that third-down failure and never was able to get out of neutral. Arizona punted on eight straight drives and was outscored 31-0.
“I thought we had a conversion on [Taylor’s] third down but we didn’t quite get there and that was kind of when they turned the momentum on us,” right guard Eric Winston said. “We never did anything to get it back.”
The Cardinals got away from what worked for them on that opening drive, which went 80 yards in 11 plays. Instead of varying the weapons, as they used three running backs and five receivers on that opening drive, the Cards’ offense became stale.
Even after Javier Arenas had his best return of the season, 46 yards with less than 3 minutes left in the first half, the Cardinals couldn’t convert inside New Orleans’ territory, going three and out.
“We still are a team that can run to the 50-yard line and kill ourselves,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. “It seemed like we did it all day -- we’d get first downs and first downs and then boom, we’d get to the 50-yard-line and then not convert a third down when the play was there to be made.”
After halftime, however, the offense slowed to a crawl. It managed just 22 yards in the third quarter on eight plays.
Third down again plagued the Cardinals, who converted just 5-of-13 opportunities. Arizona finished with 247 yards, less than Palmer threw for in each of his first two games. He finished with 187 yards on 18-of-35 passing and was sacked four times.
Arians said a few dropped balls and players lining up in the wrong positions didn’t help the cause.
Palmer shouldered the blame to an extent. He said a few of his passes were bad, such as the interception he threw in the fourth quarter after the Cardinals found their legs again with back-to-back passes to Larry Fitzgerald for 26 yards and Michael Floyd for 13, respectively.
For three quarters Sunday, the Cardinals’ offense looked like it was playing in 2012, when many of the same issues hampered its progress.
Palmer wouldn’t say whether Sunday was just an off day or if there were deeper problems within the offense.
“We need to get better. I need to get better. We need to get better as an offense,” Palmer said. “Our defense played great for three quarters and really slowed them down -- got a turnover, gave us some momentum. We just didn’t give them enough to feed off of. We weren’t successful enough and staying on the field long enough to get them a rest and give them something to keep fighting for.
“It just wasn’t good enough.”