If you sit there today as a fan of the Arizona Cardinals, you have come to expect to be disappointed. But what happened Monday night against the undefeated Chicago Bears has to make you sick to your stomach. Up 20-0 at the half, and 23-3 late in the third quarter, the Cards took the lead and simply gave it away. A pair of fumble returns, and a punt return for another TD and you have a 24-23 Bears win. A shocking win for the Bears, and one that likely means the end of the season for the Cardinals, who had so much promise going in.
Anything and everything that could go wrong in the last 15 minutes 50 seconds of play did for Arizona. It started with a fumble by quarterback Matt Leinart after running back Edgerrin James missed a block, allowed Leinart to get hit, and then the ball popped out and was recovered for a Bears TD to cut the lead to 23-10. The Cards still seemed to have things in control until the 5:53 mark was left in the 4th quarter. From the Cards own 41-yard line, James rushed for a yard on first down, then on second down fumbled. The ball was scooped up by Charles Tillman and returned for another Bears TD to cut the game to 23-17. Uh oh. Then after Arizona took the ensuing kickoff they did gain a first down before they were forced to punt with 2:58 left.
The punt was pulled in by David Hester at the Bears 17-yard line. A few swift moves later, and Hester was in the end zone, and the Cards had given up a 20-0 and 23-3 lead to trail 24-23. It was far from over though, as the Cards had a last shot, and Leinart led them down the field for a final try at the field goal from Neil Rackers, the best kicker in the league a year ago. Rackers who was 2-for-3 on the night already, pushed a 40-yard field goal try with 0:48 seconds left wide, and the Bears had escaped Arizona with an unreal 24-23 win.
Why did Arizona find itself in that position late? Carelessness with the ball? Bad play calling with the lead? Overconfidence against a Bears offense that could get nothing going all night? How about all of the above. The Cardinals stopped a Bears offense that had put up more than 30 points a game cold. They did not allow a point, and made Rex Grossman look like a rookie QB again, forcing numerous mistakes and getting him to throw four interceptions. The turnaround came on the turnovers, as well as the prevent offense that took the ball out of Leinart’s hands late and tried to settle for a longer than it should have been field goal.
Arizona held Chicago to 168 total net yards, Grossman was awful by all standards going 14-for-37 for 148 yards and four interceptions. The Cardinals held the Bears in check, the problem was – they didn’t get it done enough to make up for an offense and special teams that decided to play giveaway in the final 16 minutes. Of course with the Cards at 1-5, the press room or the locker room was not a warm, fuzzy place to be postgame. “If you want to crown them, crown them,” Denny Green yelled at the media in his presser after the contest. “They are who we thought they were, and we let them off the hook.”
That is possibly the understatement of the year. Letting a team off the hook? Maybe Green should put himself on the hook and go back to fishing instead of wasting the Cards fans time in making them think that he can turn this team around and make them what Arizona fans have longed wanted – a team that can play with the best in the league. On Monday night for 44 minutes and 10 seconds, the Cardinals dominated the best team in the league – only to once again – play like the Cardinals that the rest of the NFL has come to know – and love.