GLENDALE, Ariz. — Arizona Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury didn’t feel like his usual playcalling self during Sunday’s 31-5 win over the Houston Texans after being away from his team for eight days because of a positive COVID-19 diagnosis.
Kingsbury said he felt “great” physically but was a “little disconnected.”
“I didn’t feel as into the game as I usually am just showing up on game day,” Kingsbury said. “But the players were awesome. Great energy and made me feel very welcome to be back.”
Arizona didn’t score in the first quarter against the Texans, the first time this season that the undefeated Cardinals hadn’t scored in the first 15 minutes. The offense rebounded to score four touchdowns and a field goal in the final 45 minutes.
But not going through an entire week of play design and game prep in the office and on the field with the players was frustrating for Kingsbury, who said that, as the play designer and playcaller, not being able to workshop the plays during practice was a drastic difference.
“You want to get your hands on it,” Kingsbury said.
That all led to him feeling out of sorts on Sunday.
“It just felt funky,” Kingsbury said. “Usually, I’ve called those plays over and over throughout the week. [Quarterback Kyler Murray] and I have had that dialogue. That was the first time we’d even gone over them was out there. So, it just didn’t feel like the same type of rhythm, same type of comfort level. I just felt more on edge than I normally do after six days of preparation.”
Being away from the team for that long led Kingsbury to miss a few things, like the trade to acquire tight end Zach Ertz. The two met for the first time during warmups Sunday.
Kingsbury found out around 6:30 a.m. Sunday that he was cleared to coach against Houston. After testing positive on Oct. 15, Kingsbury needed two negative tests 24 hours apart to be cleared to return. Kingsbury, who’s vaccinated, was tested every day since his initial positive result. He was asymptomatic throughout the week, a source told ESPN.
Kingsbury spent the week preparing the game plan for Sunday, at that point still unsure if he’d be on the sideline, while working ahead. He didn’t watch the Cardinals’ win over the Browns last weekend on TV, opting to follow it on his phone while he prepped for the Texans. This past week, he spent time preparing for the Green Bay Packers on Thursday night.
“I just felt like I needed to be doing something to help the team,” Kingsbury said. “I couldn’t just sit there like a fan.”
When asked what went through his head when he found out he tested positive, Kingsbury said he didn’t want to get into that. “But,” he added, “it was a lot of curse words.”
Kingsbury had his first negative test on Saturday, which gave him a good feeling about being cleared Sunday.
“It was down to the wire,” Kingsbury said. “It’s a long week just sitting at home when you know those guys are working. I prefer the other scenario where you can coach all week and then hand them the game plan and call it than this because this way, you don’t get to see, you don’t get to correct it. You have a vision, but it’s hard not being there all week.”
As soon as he was cleared, he began getting his game-day plan in order, which included the play script and preparing mentally.
“This was the most disconnect that I felt to a game ever,” Kingsbury said, “just because I just showed up, ‘Here’s the plan, and let’s go.'”
However, Murray didn’t feel a disconnect with Kingsbury.
“Our job is to go out there and execute what’s called. I’m sure it probably did because if you miss a week — it’s not like he was in the building around the players and all that type of stuff — it was like missing a week of practice and being at home, it’s a little different,” Murray said. “I’m sure he felt a little off, but we put up 31 today, defense played great, it was a great team win. So, for him to feel awkward and we still put up 31 is a good job by us, and we have to keep it going because the Packers are coming and that’s a great team.”