Cards Collapse In Minnesota Could Cost Team Shot At NFC West

Can Anderson, Cardinals rebound against Seattle at home this Sunday?

This week’s loss in overtime to the Vikings does at least one positive thing.  It takes the sting out of last week’s loss to Tampa Bay.  It’s yet another contest that the Cardinals should have wrapped up if not for the defense giving up another late fourth quarter lead.  Brett Favre’s late game heroics should have been moot as the Cardinals should have been working with a three touchdown advantage, which in most NFL betting would have equaled a win.  That’s a lot of “should,” which obviously wasn’t how things shook out.  With the loss, the Cardinals drop to 3-5 on the season and perhaps the Vikings saved theirs with the same record.  For Arizona, it’s their first 3-game losing streak since 2007.

An Inauspicious Start:

After the Cardinals’ opening drive ended with a punt, Kerry Rhodes changed the complexion of the game.  Rhodes intercepted an errant Brett Favre pass and returned it 66 yards.  The problem was, however, that Rhodes needed to return the ball 69 yards for the score, but Rhodes pulled up around the five yard line, presumably to showboat, held the ball with one hand which allowed Greg Camarillo to strip the ball on the three yard line.  The ball bounced into the endzone and out of bounds for a touchback.  Instead of 7-0, the score remained 0-0 and gave the Vikings possession of the ball on the twenty yard line.  Classic Cardinals stuff there.

LaRod Stephens-Howling Keeps Producing:

The Vikings and Cardinals traded punts to the end of the first quarter.  Minnesota broke through in their first possession of the second quarter with a 12-yard touchdown pass to Adrian Peterson, giving the Vikings a 7-0 lead.  It didn’t take long for the Cardinals to answer as return man extraordinaire LaRod Stephens-Howling returned the ensuing kick-off 96 yards for a touchdown.  It’s Hyphen’s second of the season and it tied the score at 7-7.

The Cardinals’ Offense Comes to Life:

The Vikings tacked on a field goal on the next possession after an 11-play, 61 yard drive.  After trading punts again, the Cardinals set up shop on their own 19 yard line with 1:30 seconds left in the half.  Derek Anderson (15/26, 179 yards, 1 TD) lead an impressive drive down the field, converting a 3rd and 19 with a long completion to Larry Fitzgerald (7 receptions, 107 yards) for 30 yards.  Anderson capped off the drive with a 30-yard pass, mostly due to a catch and run by rookie Andre Roberts (2 receptions, 30 yards, 1 TD) for the receiver’s first NFL touchdown.  The Cards headed into half-time with a 14-10 lead, though it should have been 21-10; thanks again, Kerry.

O’Brien Schofield Announces His NFL Career in a Big Way:

Arizona wasted no time increasing their lead in the second half.  On the opening kick off, newly activated rookie linebacker O’Brien Schofield made his presence felt as he stripped Percy Harvin during the return.  Michael Adams scooped up the ball and took it 30 yards to pay dirt to stretch Arizona’s lead to 21-10.

The two teams once more exchanged punts.  With 8:17 left in the third quarter, Minnesota utilized great starting field position at their own 40 to drive all the way to the Cards’ two yard line.  On third down, Rashad Johnson recorded his first career interception.  Johnson stepped in front of a pass that left Favre’s hand as Darnell Dockett (5 tackles, one sack) lit Favre up as he released the ball.  Johnson foolishly elected to take the ball out of the endzone and only managed to make it to the seven yard line.  Despite that indiscretion, it was a great play by Johnson and kept points off the board when Minnesota surely would have had at least a field goal.

Arizona Fails to Slam the Door:

On the Cardinals ensuing possession, Anderson orchestrated a 14-play, 61 yard drive that stalled on the Vikings’ 4 yard line on an incomplete third down pass intended for Steve Breaston (3 receptions, 28 yards).  Jay Feely knocked in the 22-yard field goal, putting the Cardinals up 24-10 with 12:40 left in the fourth quarter.  Unfortunately, the Cardinals couldn’t punch it in two stake themselves an 18 point lead.  Arizona would not score again.

The Cardinals’ defense held strong on the Vikings’ next possession, though  Arizona endured a marathon 16-play, 81 yard drive that yielded no points for Minnesota.  The Cards’ defense held up on a 4th and 1 from their own 1 yard line by forcing an incompletion on an Adrian Peterson play-action pass.  Favre rolled out and fired incomplete in the direction of tight end Jeff Dugan.

Favre Does that Thing He Does with the Comebacks:

With the Cardinals hemmed in on their own 1 yard line, they still had the cushion of a 14-point lead with only 4:39 left in the game.  Apparently that was enough of a window for Favre and the Vikings.  A three and out by the Cardinals left Minnesota with great field position, which they took advantage of via an Adrian Peterson rushing touchdown after a 3-play, 30 yard drive.  The Vikings pulled it to a one score game at 24-17 with just 3:34 left.

On the next Arizona possession, the Cardinals lost one yard on a first down run by Tim Hightower.  After a LaRod Stephens-Howling carry for one yard, Anderson completed a short pass to Fitzgerald on a critical third down that, if converted, might have iced the game.  Vikings’ CB Lito Sheppard came up with a game saving open field tackle, dropping Fitz 4 yards short of the first down.  Arizona was forced to punt and hope their defense could win the game for them; they could not.

From their own 23 yard line, the Vikings drove to the Cards’ 20 yard line on Favre’s right arm as he carved up Arizona’s weak pass defense.  An illegal formation penalty backed up the Vikings on 3rd down, but it didn’t matter.  Favre threw a 25 yard, game tying touchdown pass to tight end Visanthe Shiancoe with just 27 seconds left on the game clock.  Adrian Wilson, who missed several open field tackles in the game, got turned around by Shiancoe as Favre’s pass sailed over Adrian’s head and into Shiancoe’s arms.  Wilson’s pass coverage has been a real problem for the Cards’ this year as Arizona has been destroyed by pass catching tight ends all season (i.e., Antonio Gates, Zach Miller, Tony Gonzalez, and now Shiancoe).  The Vikings, therefore, forced overtime after erasing a 14-point deficit.  The Cardinals blew a late fourth quarter lead for the second consecutive week.

Obviously, the Cardinals were not able to put any points up after they won the toss.  After a Cardinals’ punt, Adrian Peterson set the Vikings up for the win with a 31 yard gain.  Ryan Longwell booted the 35-yard game winning field goal; game over, 27-24.

The Cardinals did enough to win this game, but they did more to lose it.  There’s just no explanation for Kerry Rhodes’ fumble on the goal line.  Don’t slow up for style points and keep two hands on the ball instead of preparing for the celebration.  It wasn’t all Rhodes, though.  The defense had a 14-point lead to protect with under 5:oo left to play.  If you can’t protect that lead, you don’t deserve to win.  They couldn’t and they didn’t.

A Few Positives (Yes, They Were There):

  • Derek Anderson absolutely played his best game of the season, though he had an easy interception dropped in the first quarter by Vikings’ linebacker Chad Greenway (first ruled intercepted, but overturned on replay).  Also, he did miss some wide open targets (mostly Fitzgerald), but he also threw some great balls.  Consider the 30-yard completion on 3rd and 19 to Fitzgerald down the left sideline.  He fit the ball in a box between three closing defenders.  That was a professional pass.  He finished the game with a 91.7 passer rating.  This Cardinals team can survive and win with that kind of an effort from Anderson.
  • Joey Porter (6 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 tackles for loss) continues to pick up his production, bringing his season sack total up to five.  Also, Porter got to Favre pretty consistently, recording five QB hits on top of his two sacks.  It’s safe to say that Porter’s been on a mini-tear the past three games, recording four of his five sacks to go along with 12 tackles.  Darnell Dockett also recorded a sack (two total) against Minnesota.
  • Kerry Rhodes, for all the frustration he caused, did intercept a pass, his second of the year.  He continues to make big plays, which is a fact that shouldn’t be overlooked despite his absolute blunder.
  • The Cardinals really dialed up their pressure during most of the game.  It seemed that Bill Davis was less hesitant to send guys than in recent weeks.  It worked.  Favre was harassed all day and the Cardinals logged three sacks and nine quarterback hits.  Most of those QB hits sent Favre to the ground.
  • Via special teams returns and what should have been a defensive touchdown, the Cardinals continue to score points when their offensive is not on the field.  In addition, Arizona, with the exception of Rhodes’ fumble, took a step in the right direction by not turning the ball over on offense.  No interceptions and no offensive fumbles.
  • Arizona’s offense showed modest improvement, but 225 total yards with just 50 rushing yards isn’t going to get the job done.  In addition, the Cardinals converted just 3 of 13 third downs.  Considering that Arizona jumped out to an 11 point lead basically seconds after the second half started, which stretched to a 14 point lead late in the fourth quarter, I have to question why the Cardinals ended the game with only 21 rushing attempts, with just 11 in the second half.  This team is not incapable of running.  The Vikings’ 6:14 drive on their first possession of the fourth quarter put a serious dent into Arizona’s late-game time of possession, but the Cardinals could have leaned on the run game to drain some time off the clock even if they didn’t produce first downs.  Favre needed all but 27 seconds to tie the game.  Perhaps that half a minute might have been eaten up if Whisenhunt committed to protecting the lead through the running game.

The Aftermath:

I guess the big question is whether the Cards’ season is ruined at 3-5.  It’s tough to say no on Monday morning after Sunday’s debacle followed the Tampa Bay game, but I think to say it’s over would mostly be an emotional response, rather than a reasoned one.

The NFC West is even worse than it was a couple of weeks ago.  The Seahawks and Rams own equal shares of first place at 4-4, which is nothing special at all.   In addition, Seattle was absolutely waxed for the second week in a row.  This week it was against the Giants at home.  Granted, the Giants have shown great strength in the past few weeks and Matt Hasselbeck wasn’t playing, but still.  The Giants absolutely wore out that defense.  Further, the Rams (Week 9 bye) have lost their last two games and it’s going to be a struggle for them the rest of the way as well.  Finally, the 49ers (Week 9 bye) are still bringing up the rear at 2-6.  It’s really anyone’s division, but eventually the Cardinals have to stop shooting themselves in the foot.  The season will boil down to Arizona’s remaining intra-division match ups.

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