GLENDALE, Ariz. — Arizona Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury told the media this week that wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins isn’t coming back to be the savior.
Well, on Thursday night he made a tremendous difference.
In his first NFL game in 10 months, Hopkins had a team-high 10 receptions for 103 yards in the Cardinals’ 42-34 win over the New Orleans Saints on Thursday night. The 42 points scored by the Cardinals were a season best. The defense had two touchdowns in the victory, but it’s not a coincidence that the Cardinals lit up the scoreboard with their best player back on the field.
“It’s a different looking deal out there with him. The confidence that the other guys around him play with,” Kingsbury said of Hopkins. “It’s good to have him back.”
Hopkins, who was serving a six-game suspension for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs, didn’t show any noticeable rust. He was targeted 14 times and nearly played the whole game.
Follow every game: Live NFL Scores
His chemistry with quarterback Kyler Murray didn’t miss a beat. One of Hopkins’ successful catches came on a comeback route where Murray threw the wide receiver the football before he even got out of his break.
“His energy. Obviously, he’s as talented as ever. Just having him out there, it didn’t look like he had any rust,” Murray said. ” His communication, his feel for the game, all of that you can’t point a price tag on it.”
The Cardinals offense is in better sync with Hopkins on the field. While Hopkins serves as the No. 1 target, everyone else can fit into a role they are more comfortable with as secondary options.
“I think reads are easier for Kyler. Not saying they are not with other players out there, but him and I have been playing for a couple years now,” Hopkins said. “Obviously, we know each other very well.”
The Cardinals’ victory improved them to 3-4 on the season. It also ended their eight-game home losing streak.
Following a rocky start, the Cardinals are just one game back in the loss column behind their division rivals Los Angeles Rams, San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks in what is shaping up to be a fierce competition for the NFC West title.
Arizona started 7-0 last season but lost four of their final five to end the regular season. Could the Cardinals reverse course and go on a second-half surge this season?
We’ll get an answer to that question soon as Arizona now enters the heart of its schedule. The Cardinals’ next five games are against the Minnesota Vikings, Seahawks, Rams, 49ers and Los Angeles Chargers.
What we unequivocally know at the moment is the Cardinals sorely missed No. 10.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Tyler Dragon on Twitter @TheTylerDragon.