Arizona’s bad-start habit threatens to derail season goals

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — The Arizona Cardinals are a middling team with two major problems: They aren’t playing well in the first quarter and they aren’t playing well at home.

Solutions need to come quickly.

Arizona (2-3) lost to the undefeated Philadelphia Eagles 20-17 on Sunday and the game followed a familar script.

The Cardinals played terrible early, falling behind 14-0 before playing much better in the second half and rallying to tie it at 17 in the fourth quarter. The Eagles pushed ahead by three points on a short field goal, and then Arizona kicker Matt Ammendola missed a 43-yarder with 22 seconds remaining that likely would have pushed the game to overtime.

Nobody wanted to blame the loss on Ammendola — who had just been elevated to the active roster for injured starter Matt Prater.

Instead, it’s become obvious that fighting from behind every single week isn’t a consistent winning formula.

The Cardinals have been outscored 38-0 in the first quarter this season.

“We’ve tried it all, but we’ll keep trying,” Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “It just comes down to coaches calling better plays, offensively and defensively, guys executing on a higher level and no feel-out period. Let’s just play like we played in the second half from the start.”

Then there is Arizona’s confounding inability to win at home.

The Cardinals have now lost eight straight games at State Farm Stadium, which is the team’s longest home losing streak since 1956-58, when they were the Chicago Cardinals.

“We can talk all we want about ‘Do this,’ or ‘Do that,’ or change the schedule or change the practice routine,” Kingsbury said. “But it’s just a matter of getting to work and getting better on the practice field.”

WHAT’S WORKING

Arizona’s defense continues to hold its own against some of the NFL’s best offenses. The Eagles managed just 357 total yards on Sunday, which is a respectable performance against Philadelphia QB Jalen Hurts, who has emerged as an MVP candidate. Cardinals LB Isaiah Simmons had 13 tackles, bouncing back from a rough start to the season.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

The Cardinals have to play one more game without three-time All-Pro DeAndre Hopkins, who returns next week after a six-game suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs. Hopkins should provide a deep threat that’s been missing from the offense for most of the season.

STOCK UP

DL Zach Allen is growing into a very good NFL player. The 25-year-old has had a season-high eight tackles against the Eagles and had a sack for the second straight game.

STOCK DOWN

RB Darrel Williams was a key part of the Kansas City Chiefs backfield the past four seasons but hasn’t been able to find a consistent role in the desert. He’s only run for 94 yards this season, but is averaging 5.9 yards per carry. He’s dealing with a knee injury that might limit his availability in next week’s game.

INJURIES

The running back depth chart took a hit on Sunday with James Conner (ribs), Williams (knee) and Jonathan Ward (hamstring) all leaving the game. Eno Benjamin was the team’s only healthy running back by the end of the game. … C Rodney Hudson (knee) is day-to-day after missing the Eagles game.

KEY NUMBER

26.6 — Quarterback Kyler Murray’s rushing yards per game this season, which is the lowest of his four-year career.

NEXT STEPS

The Cardinals hit the road next Sunday to face the Seahawks, who have also struggled with a 2-3 record. The good news for Arizona is nobody in the NFC West is dominating. San Francisco leads the division with a 3-2 mark.

“The division is wide open and our guys understand what’s on the line,” Kingsbury said. “We need to play better in a hurry and I know we’re capable of doing that.”

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