GLENDALE, Ariz. — After Kyzir White secured the game-sealing interception, he ran off the field, near the stands in State Farm Stadium, and posed for the television cameras. Teammates rushed over to join him, the Arizona Cardinals’ biggest celebration of a young season.
Then, as the offense took the field to finish Sunday’s 28-16 win over the Dallas Cowboys, White headed down the sideline, the football tucked in his right arm. The linebacker walked past teammates and assistants until he reached Jonathan Gannon, who was standing near midfield.
White embraced the first-year head coach.
“It meant everything to me because he put his face on the line bringing me over here,” said White, who played for Gannon last season when the coach was the defensive coordinator for the Philadelphia Eagles. “I don’t want to let him down, so to seal the deal, for him to get his first win, that felt good.”
For the third time in three weeks, Arizona entered the fourth quarter with a lead. The first two opportunities had slipped away, first at Washington against the Commanders. Then last week at home against the New York Giants. This time the Cardinals finished, making enough plays to post their first home win since Oct. 20.
For many, it was a milestone day. Joshua Dobbs, acquired via trade exactly one month earlier, posted his first NFL win as a starting quarterback. When Dobbs arrived, thrust into a major role while Kyler Murray recovers from knee surgery, his first task was simply learning the names of his teammates.
In his fifth career start Sunday, Dobbs jogged onto the field with nine minutes to go. Dallas had just kicked a field goal to pull within 21-16. The contest had started to follow a similar script as the previous week, when the Cardinals blew leads of 20-0 and 28-7.
Cardinals head coach Jonathan Gannon gets a Gatorade bath after his first career NFL win 🙌pic.twitter.com/IjjdYXbGuB
— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPoints) September 24, 2023
On first down, Dobbs faked a handoff and ran left behind pulling guard Will Hernandez, head up. Rookie receiver Michael Wilson ran through the middle of the field and got lost in coverage. Once Dobbs planted and fired, Wilson was alone, no one within 10 yards. The play covered 69 yards and energized the Arizona sideline.
Three plays later, Dobbs threw under pressure to Marquise Brown, a 2-yard touchdown pass that gave Arizona a 28-16 lead. The seventh-year quarterback, a career backup until this season, dropped his head, clenched his fists and yelled.
“I was mic’d up, so I’m interested to see what I said,” said Dobbs, who completed 17 of 21 passes for 189 yards and the touchdown. “Hopefully, they’ll cut some stuff out so my mom doesn’t get mad at me. I was pretty fired up.”
It’s tough to draw conclusions after three games, but it’s not unreasonable to think the Cardinals (1-2) might turn out better than expected. The defense, even with star safety Budda Baker sidelined with a hamstring issue, has played well. Dobbs has improved. Murray, their franchise quarterback, is expected to return at some point.
That doesn’t mean Arizona is a playoff contender or even close, for that matter; it just means the “tanking” narrative attached to the Cardinals for next season’s draft might need to be reconsidered. Or at least put on hold. (In addition to owning their own 2024 first-round pick, the Cardinals also have the Houston Texans’.)
In his sixth season, White had heard the talk — how the Cardinals would struggle, maybe even go winless. “Whether you want to block it out or not, you’re going to hear it,” he said. The linebacker also had heard plenty about the Cowboys. He has friends and relatives who are fans. He also noticed all the Dallas fans in State Farm Stadium.
After Brown’s touchdown, Dallas (2-1) still had time. Dak Prescott led the Cowboys deep into the red zone. On third-and-goal from the Arizona 6, Prescott looked for receiver Brandin Cooks, running across the middle in the end zone.
To that point, White’s best play this season might have been one that drew a flag. Early in the Week 1 loss at Washington, he delivered a hard, late hit to quarterback Sam Howell that drew a personal foul. Though his coaches weren’t thrilled, his teammates loved it. They thought it set a tone. A physical standard.
This time, White, in a coverage in which he had struggled in practice, read Prescott perfectly. He leaped and picked off the fifth pass of his career, sealing the Arizona win. He also finished with a game-high 14 tackles.
What crossed White’s mind as Prescott’s pass sailed in his direction: “Don’t drop it. Please don’t drop it.”
As time expired, White and fellow linebacker Dennis Gardeck emptied a jug of ice water over Gannon. The coach smiled as White grabbed him. In the postgame news conference, Gannon downplayed his first win. Hopefully, it’s one of many, he said. He was most proud of the Cardinals’ fight. They kept punching.
As for the “Gatorade shower,” Gannon said that was something the players wanted to do. He wasn’t a fan.
This surprised White.
“He didn’t like it?” White said, quickly discarding the thought. “He’ll be all right.”
(Photo of Kyzir White, right, celebrating an interception: Mike Christy / Getty Images)