A few weeks ago, we all made fun of Jonathan Gannon. If you’re having a hard time remembering why, I’ll refresh it one last time. This was a clip from a docuseries that was edited and framed in a way that made me wonder aloud whether it was an inside hit job aimed at undermining his head coaching tenure. Around the time the Cardinals were being accused of preemptively tanking (by yours truly, included), it certainly felt like Gannon was being set up to fail.
And then I remembered Gannon’s former head coach, and his own battle with public perception. Nick Sirianni had a bad introductory press conference. It’s something he talks about openly and honestly now. Many assistants who rise as quickly as Sirianni rarely get the kind of media experience that prepares them for that moment. But, as he told me before this year’s Super Bowl, it was something he didn’t think twice about. He put it on a list of things to improve. A few weeks later, he compared his team to flowers. People made fun of that too. I wrote about it here.
Now, we have no choice but to take Sirianni seriously. We all may be quietly deleting our Gannon roasts at some point too.
It’s not just that the Cardinals beat the Dallas Cowboys. It’s that they damn near beat the Commanders in Week 1 and were clubbing the Giants at the half in Week 2. When we’re talking about most teams, near wins are meaningless. When we’re talking about the Cardinals, their level of effort and attitude absolutely matters.
This was a team that waited until days before the start of the regular season to acquire their starting quarterback. This is a team that put the very minimum down payment on free agency and started shipping away assets from which it could retain value. In essence, this was a team that was following an NFL-blessed process in which it was not putting the absolute best team on the field right now in an effort to have a better team on the field at some point in the future.
In that vein, Gannon would seem to be like every other coach—Hue Jackson, Steve Wilks, Brian Flores, David Culley, Lovie Smith—who began a process that he would almost certainly not finish (almost as if by design, some would argue).
Of course, those who know Gannon would refute that, and it seems like his players have backed up as much. This Cowboys team, albeit with the benefit of a uniquely advantageous schedule to this point having faced the Giants in a rainstorm and the Jets a week after they lost Aaron Rodgers, looked like one of the best teams in the NFL over two weeks. The speed of their defense bordered on violent. That same defense gave up a 120 passer rating to Josh Dobbs and seven yards per carry to James Conner.
This could always be the case where Dallas simply slept its way through a week of preparation, treating the Cardinals like Alabama might treat the Chattanooga Mocs, or the Miami Dolphins might treat the Denver Broncos. Dallas could also be nowhere as good as we’ve made them out to be, and now their next five games against the Patriots, 49ers, Chargers, Rams and Eagles take on a bit of a different feel (meaning that for the first time all season I could entertain the idea of them being 3-4 by Halloween).
It’s never a good idea to make more of a singular week than one should. But, we could add in the fact that Arizona entered the game seventh in interceptions, eighth in turnover percentage, 10th in rushing yards per attempt and 13th in time of possession. The “safe” bet was 32nd across the board.
At the very least, if the Cardinals had Caleb Williams in their periphery, it seems Gannon and the team was not apprised of those designs. Tanking in the NFL is already difficult, but it’s even harder when a team is going full throttle every week, as Arizona has. This may be the last time we think about the Cardinals this season, but by logging the biggest upset of the year they have proven themselves bus takers, or whatever it was Gannon was talking about during that speech that we are officially not allowed to make fun of anymore.