The Arizona Cardinals (3-4-1) came into Week 8 with a three-game winning streak, but the New Orleans Saints (6-1) came in with their own streak, and they proved Sunday they deserve to be among the NFC's top contenders with a 31-9 rout at the Superdome.
Both sides looked pretty evenly matched for much of the day, especially with Kyler Murray using his athleticism to extend plays and the Cardinals defense coming up with several first-half stands, including a deep-ball pick of Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who returned from a thumb injury for his first action since Week 2. The Saints didn't skip a beat with Brees taking back his spot, though, marching up and down the field with methodical, clock-eating drives, and both Latavius Murray and Michael Thomas starring when they were needed most.
Let's take a deeper dive into how the Saints rolled past the Cardinals on Sunday:
Why the Saints won
Their trademark ball-control offense looked just as good as usual, if not better, under Brees despite some early misfires from the returning veteran, and while they failed to punch the ball into the end zone on a few early red-zone trips, they simply had no trouble moving the ball. They picked up yards with ease thanks to supreme efforts from Latavius Murray (157 total yards) and Michael Thomas (11 catches, 112 yards), not to mention big plays from Taysom Hill (63 yards) and Ted Ginn Jr. (42 yards). In other words, everybody stepped up, and the balance and depth of Sean Payton's squad was on full display as New Orleans dominated time of possession (37:59 to 22:01). Defensively, the Saints weren't quite as efficient, surrendering chunk plays to Murray, but they absolutely eliminated Arizona's ground game and stood tall when it mattered most, coming up with several fourth-down stops and limiting Kliff Kingsbury's group to three field goals.
Why the Cardinals lost
Crazy as it may sound considering how easily and how often the Saints moved the ball against Arizona's defense, Kingsbury and the Cardinals offense probably deserve just as much, if not more, blame for the loss, which looks ugly on paper but wasn't nearly as bad as it sounds. Murray made the most he could out of many would-be sacks, and guys like Christian Kirk and Charles Clay stepped up with a handful of big plays that threatened to set up go-ahead scores. But from the moment Larry Fitzgerald failed to get two feet in-bounds on a beautiful Murray end-zone pass early in the contest, the Cards looked destined to come up short on their most important plays, whether it be short third and fourth downs or red-zone opportunities. For how elusive Murray looked at times, Kingsbury should've been able to dial up enough to get more than nine points. Yes, it's hard to win when your "D" gives up 31, but we knew the Saints were going to score points.
Believe it or not, the Cardinals were only down 10-6 halfway through the third quarter. Seriously, think about that for a second. Things swung dramatically, however, with Arizona's decision to go for it on fourth-and-one from their own 30-yard line with 7:36 remaining until the fourth. Kingsbury shouldn't necessarily be slammed for being bold there, but he should be criticized for the play call -- a hand-off to Chase Edmonds right up the middle during a game in which New Orleans completely shut down interior running lanes. The Saints predictably stuffed the play, forcing a turnover on downs just four plays after the Cards picked off Brees, and New Orleans proceeded to march the remaining 30 yards for a touchdown and 17-6 lead. Arizona responded with a field goal on its next drive, but that stretch ensured New Orleans would remain in control.
Play of the game
Murray had some nice zingers for the Cardinals, and Taysom Hill had a handful of big plays lining up all over the place, but it was the latter's touchdown catch late in Sunday's contest that confirmed him as one of the NFL's most versatile weapons. Brees didn't have to do much to complete this short scoring pass, but keep in mind this is a quarterback beating a slot corner in the red zone:
"This just builds confidence, right? No matter what situation we get in, this team has a chance. And when you believe that, you trust that, it gives you a lot of confidence."
Those remarks from Brees after the game paint a straightforward but true picture of the Saints right now. While the Cardinals hung around for a while in Sunday's game, New Orleans still looked like a well-rounded contender. And it's hard to argue with them as one of the league's most balanced teams halfway through the year.
The Saints (7-1) will be back at home again in Week 10, after their bye, on Sunday, Nov. 10, for a 1 p.m. ET matchup with their NFC South rival Atlanta Falcons (1-7). The Cardinals (3-3-4), meanwhile, have a short week to prepare for a Week 9 showdown with their own rivals, the unbeaten San Francisco 49ers (6-0), who will visit Arizona on Thursday, Oct. 31.
Relive all the action from Sunday's Cardinals-Saints matchup right here: