TEMPE, Ariz. — The last time the Arizona Cardinals played the Seattle Seahawks they lost by a score of 34-22.
Quarterback Carson Palmer was sacked seven times while throwing two interceptions, the Cardinals rushed for just 30 yards and the defense could not contain Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson as they lost their second consecutive game to fall to 3-4 on the season.
My how things have changed.
The Cardinals have won six of seven games since then, improving their record to 9-5 and inserting themselves squarely in the playoff picture. If you’re looking for a point where the season turned around, that Oct. 17 loss may be it.
“It woke us up a little bit in the fact that we went back to work and didn’t allow it to crush a dream,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said of first meeting. “We lost at home. Let’s not lose anymore at home. That was the goal, and so far we’ve been able to attain that goal. Scratch out a couple more on the road — got close twice. But yeah, it was a good turning point for us… in a loss.”
Like any coach, Arians would prefer his team learn its lessons in wins rather than losses. Such was the case Sunday in Tennessee, when the Cards coughed up a 17-point fourth quarter lead and were forced to win the game in overtime.
Was it the type of game the Cardinals could have won earlier in the season? Probably not, but they’re a different team now.
“I think the efficiency of the QB and the whole hookup between the thrower and the catchers is really sharp,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “Carson’s on it and Bruce has got a great feel for how to use him and use their receivers and they’re just functioning at a higher level consistently.”
Through seven weeks, or the Seattle game, the Cardinals averaged 19 points per game with Carson Palmer being among the league leaders in interceptions. Since that game, the Cardinals are averaging 29.86 points per game with Palmer leading the way. And the defense, which had been solid up to that point, seems to have reached another level over the last two months.
“We’re different in a lot of ways,” cornerback Patrick Peterson said. “We’re more efficient on the offensive side. I believe we’re more — not to say that we weren’t competitive that game on the defensive side — it’s just that everybody’s on the same page now, everybody is ready to go. Everybody knows that this is a meaningful game for us.”
This game is about as meaningful as it gets. As Peterson went on to note, a loss Sunday would likely put an end to the Cardinals’ postseason hopes. It’s not exactly an enviable situation, needing to be the first road team to win in Seattle in nearly two seasons, but that’s where the Cardinals are after the season’s first 15 weeks.
“We were not playing the football we expect,” guard Daryn Colledge said of the first meeting between the teams. “This is a lot different team than it was even that week. It’s one of those things where we felt like we had the team to get things done and we let some games slip away early in the season that we shouldn’t have, and we’re paying for that right now.”
A win Sunday, though, would not only help make up for the early-season missteps while keeping faint playoff hopes alive; it would prove that the Cardinals who couldn’t hang with a team like the Seahawks are a thing of the past.
“They’re supposed to be the top dog, the juggernaut of the division, so we have to go up there and play pretty much a perfect game to beat these guys,” linebacker Daryl Washington said.
“They’re going to have their crowd behind them — the 12th Man, what they call it — and we have to go up and play our best football and leave everything out on the field.”