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Cardinals’ loss to Seahawks feels like official end of an era

Injured Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer, center, talks with quarterback Drew Stanton, left, and quarterback Blaine Gabbert, right, during the second half of an NFL football game against the Seattle Seahawks, Thursday, Nov. 9, 2017, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — It was fitting that the Cardinals wore black on Thursday night against the Seattle Seahawks. The 22-16 loss felt a lot like a funeral.

Left tackle D.J. Humphries, safety Tyvon Branch and tight end Ifeanyi Momah left the game with injuries and it does not look like they will be back this season.

Adrian Peterson (29 yards) and the running game never got going against the Seahawks’ tough defensive front, and Seattle’s win confirmed beyond a shadow of a doubt that the NFC West is a two-team race with the Cardinals running third.

We can pretend the Cardinals are still alive in the wild-card chase. A 4-5 record is not a death knell in the NFL’s sea of mediocrity, but the eye test looks the same to the average fan as it does from the press box and the owner’s suite.

The Cardinals’ four wins have come against the 49ers (twice), Colts and Buccaneers. Those teams have combined for five wins. The Cardinals’ five losses have come to the Lions, Cowboys, Eagles, Rams and Seahawks: five teams that are legitimately vying for those NFC playoff spots.

Something is missing. No, a lot of things are missing.

“I thought our guys fought their asses off,” a subdued coach Bruce Arians said after the game. “I couldn’t ask for any more effort, [but] a little better execution. We dropped way too many balls and put ourselves behind the chains offensively way too many times in that game.”

Credit the defense for a terrific effort. But for one unfortunate slip on the turf by safety Antoine Bethea that led to Doug Baldwin’s 54-yard reception, they played well enough to win.

The danger in close losses like this is believing the Cardinals are still close. The danger is believing that with a healthy David Johnson and a healthy Carson Palmer, things would be different. They would not, and that hard truth must be digested.

Team president Michael Bidwill wants to win. He’s competitive and he has done many things to alter the trajectory of this franchise, things that hadn’t happened previously, things for which he deserves credit.

The Cardinals came close to contention with this cast of players, but injuries derailed what was an all-too-short window of opportunity in 2014 and 2015.

Bidwill and general manager Steve Keim hung on to many of the same pieces, understandably, to see if they could recapture that magic the last two seasons, but it is gone and it’s not coming back. This group of players has lost something and you could tell from the start of this season that they weren’t going to find it again.

It will take courage to admit that this offseason when another playoff bid comes up short, but it needs to happen because it is plain for all to see.

It’s time to take a deep breath, admit that this era is over, and then take a long hard look from top to bottom at what changes need to be made to try and rebuild hope in a league where rapid turnover is commonplace.

The buzz is gone, and the coffee is cold.

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