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Big Red Recap: Cardinals officially out of playoff mix with loss to Saints

Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (11) leaves the field after an NFL football game against the New Orleans Saints, Sunday, Dec. 18, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. The Saints won 48-41. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

The Arizona Cardinals have been officially eliminated from the playoffs.

Their hopes were slim-to-none entering Week 15, and now the odds are simply none after dropping their regular-season home finale, 48-41, to the New Orleans Saints.

If nothing else, the sold-out crowd at University of Phoenix Stadium got their money’s worth.

Each teams’ quarterback passed for better than 300 yards and each had a running back scored twice in a game that had more than 900 yards of total offense.

The Cardinals (5-8-1) led midway through the second quarter before Saints signal-caller Drew Brees threw two touchdowns, both to Brandin Cooks, on consecutive possessions for a 24-13 lead.

Though the Cardinals would tie it in the fourth quarter, 34-34, they would never regain the lead and lost for the second straight week and fourth time in five games overall.

Brees finished with four touchdowns and 389 passing yards, Cooks added seven catches and 186 receiving yards, and Tim Hightower recorded two touchdowns.

The Saints’ (6-8) 48 points marked a Cardinals opponent season-high.

The Cardinals’ 41 of their own scored marked a season-high as well.

Carson Palmer went 28-of-40 for 318 yards and two touchdowns, David Johnson found the end zone twice and topped 100 yards from scrimmage (53 rushing and 55 receiving) once again, while Larry Fitzgerald had a team-high seven catches for 57 yards.

With the loss, the Cardinals have assured themselves of a losing season for the first time under head coach Bruce Arians.

THE GOOD

Playing in his 200th career game, Fitzgerald extended his franchise-record of having at least one reception to 193 consecutive games, the third-longest such streak in NFL history, trailing Jerry Rice (274) and Tony Gonzalez (211). Fitzgerald added to his streak with an 11-yard grab on the game’s fifth play. And by the way, only Jim Bakken (234) has appeared in more career games with the Cardinals than Fitzgerald.

So a running back not named Johnson had the first rushing attempt (Kerwynn Williams) and reception (Andre Ellington) of the game. And it was Williams who scored the first touchdown, taking the direct snap and going 49 yards around the right side—getting a good block from Fitzgerald—for a 7-0 Cardinals lead at the 12:27 mark. By the way, Williams scored, his first of the season, despite losing his shoe at about the 40-yard line.

It was quite the first half for Calais Campbell, who may have played his final home game in a Cardinals uniform. He recorded two sacks, his fifth and sixth of the season, giving him 54.5 for his career, the second-most in team history. He also scored his first-ever touchdown, pro or college. It was a 53-yard fumble return for a score that gave Arizona a 13-10 lead at the 7:08 mark of the second quarter after Markus Golden knocked the ball out of Brees’ hands.

After 48 first-half yards from scrimmage, Johnson accounted for 35 on the Cardinals’ game-tying third-quarter scoring drive. His two-yard touchdown run, his 12th rushing score of the season and 16th overall, made it 27-27 at the 3:19 mark. For Johnson, he joined Gale Sayers as the only players in NFL history with 20-plus rushing touchdowns, five-plus receiving touchdowns and one kickoff return touchdown in their first two seasons.

Let the record show it was a five-yard fourth-quarter run that put Johnson over 100 yards from scrimmage for a 14th straight game, the most ever in NFL history to open a season. Three plays later, he scored from three yards out to tie the game at 34 at the 8:57 mark. For Johnson, this marked his seventh multi-touchdown game of the season. It was his 17th overall score, tying the franchise record for most touchdowns in a single season.

THE BAD

At the Cardinals’ expense, Brees ended a two-game drought without throwing a touchdown with a 10-yard third-down pass to Travaris Cadet, giving New Orleans its first lead of the game, 10-7, at the 1:33 mark of the first quarter. The scoring drive 1) was set up by a Fitzgerald fumble and 2) extended by a facemask penalty on Golden, the latter of which came on 3rd-and-11 following an incomplete pass, meaning the defense would’ve been off the field.

It’s called momentum, and Brees halted any Cardinals’ momentum after the Campbell scoop-and-score with a perfectly thrown 65-yard pass to Cooks for a go-ahead touchdown, 17-13, at the 6:11 mark of the second quarter. It was Cooks’ seventh touchdown of the season as D.J. Swearinger was the nearest defender, and he was a good five-plus yards away. The drive lasted all of 57 seconds as the Saints covered 77 yards on two plays.

It has not been a good two weeks for Chandler Catanzaro. And it was an awful second quarter against the Saints. He missed a 55-yard field goal, short and to the right, plus an extra point, wide left, in the period. With those two misses, Catanzaro has now missed six field goals, two from beyond 50 yards, and four PATs this season. Last week in Miami, he failed on three kicks, missing a field goal and an extra point as well as having a PAT blocked.

More special teams ugliness happened in the fourth quarter. On 4th-and-2 at the Arizona 7, Justin Bethel lined up offsides on the Saints’ made field goal. The penalty made it 1st-and-goal at the Arizona 3, and on the very next snap, Hightower, the one-time Cardinals running back, scored to put New Orleans ahead, 34-27, at the 12:59 mark. On the drive, Brees (306) became the first Cardinals’ opposing quarterback to pass for 300 yards in a game.

Twice the Saints capitalized on Cardinals turnovers. The second was a killer, and likely sealed the New Orleans win. Driving to potentially tie the game and facing 3rd-and-10, Brittan Golden caught a five-yard pass but then fumbled. Ken Crawley recovered the ball at the Arizona 29. Six plays later, Hightower scored his second touchdown, this time from two yards out, to give New Orleans a commanding 48-34 lead at the 3:27 mark of the fourth quarter.

STAT OF THE GAME

9-of-14: The Saints converted 64.2 percent of their third-down opportunities, the highest allowed by the Cardinals this season

HE SAID IT

“It hurts when you lose a game. We’re too good of a team,” Campbell said, later adding about his four-tackle, two-sack effort, “You go out there and play hard and good things happen. This could be my last home game. My mindset was going out and having fun.”

NOTED

– Marcus Cooper (back) left the game in the third quarter and was replaced by Brandon Williams.

– Tony Jefferson (unknown) was attended to by the training staff early in the first quarter.

– Among the Cardinals’ seven inactives was left tackle D.J. Humphries (concussion).

– For the second time this season, and second straight game, the stadium roof was open.

– Phoenix resident and ex-American Idol winner Jordin Sparks sang the National Anthem.

UP NEXT

The Cardinals hit the road.

In fact, the Cardinals will end the 2016 season with back-to-back games away from home, beginning with a visit to Seattle on Saturday, Dec. 24. Kickoff is scheduled for 2:25 p.m. with pregame coverage beginning five hours earlier on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.

Of course, the first meeting between these teams this season ended in a 6-6 tie on Oct. 23.

The Cardinals have but one win in the past five matchups with the Seahawks, that being last season’s road victory, 39-32, which was their second win in their last three trips to CenturyLink Field.

Overall, the series, which dates back to 1976, is all tied, 17-17-1.

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