Cardinals on wrong side of history after letting NFC West title slip away
History isn’t always pretty. The Arizona Cardinals made it anyway.
They lost a football game and the NFC West title on Sunday, falling 38-30 to the Seattle Seahawks at State Farm Stadium.
They became the first team in NFL history to start 7-0 and finish with six regular season losses.
They received the golden reprieve they needed from the San Francisco 49ers, only to squander their second chance at a division title.
They become the rare NFL team that might actually prefer a road trip all the way to the Super Bowl. Or at least that’s what they’ll tell you.
But ask yourself this:
Can you trust a football team that enters the postseason with five consecutive losses at home?
“You’ve got to get back up,” Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “It’s a new season.”
Alas, that’s the only chunk of good news still intact after Sunday’s performance. Arizona is in the postseason for the first time since 2015, and the playoffs represent a Big Red reset button.
The fifth-seeded Cardinals will begin their second season by facing the Rams in Los Angeles, where they scored a dominant victory earlier in the season.
They might receive a huge emotional lift with the return of defensive star J.J. Watt. But they have other issues.
Their secondary is a decimated mess. On a day when Patrick Peterson notched a pick-six in Minnesota, the Cardinals unveiled a cornerback wearing Peterson’s former number (21). His name was Breon Borders, and it was not a pretty sight.
The defense gave up a ton of big plays and couldn’t get off the field on third down. The offensive line was strangely vulnerable against the Seahawks, allowing five sacks. D.J. Humphries returned from the COVID-19 list and spent the day in a fog.
Kyler Murray held onto the ball too long and was harassed far too often. James Conner returned to score two touchdowns, upping his season total to 18, only to leave the game with a rib injury. And the generally reliable Andy Lee made a terrible gaffe in the punting game, opening a door for the Seahawks.
The Cardinals were booed as they left the field at intermission, rebounded to take the lead in the third quarter and then lost all semblance of control. They scored a defensive touchdown 12 seconds into the game and still gave up 38 points. They must endure the shame and regret of losing to a 10-loss Seahawks team when a victory would’ve gifted them the NFC West title.
That is a terrible look, even if the 49ers’ triumph technically occurred after Russell Wilson had taken his final knee in Glendale.
“It’s pretty disappointing,” safety Jalen Thompson said. “We didn’t come out and do our jobs the way we should have.”
After the game was over, Kingsbury played all the hits. He gave credit to the Seahawks for outplaying and out-coaching the Cardinals. He said his team didn’t handle the moment well, and that the Seahawks seemed to want it more.
Both he and Murray agreed that going on the road might be the best thing for this team, but said so in a self-loathing way, where they both seemed to realize the absurdity of a playoff team with a 3-5 home record.
During their 10-2 start, the Cardinals seemed primed for a second Super Bowl appearance. Now, they have to win at least one playoff game or risk alienating all the ticket buyers who found very little return on their investment at State Farm Stadium.
They need a playoff victory to validate the promise of the 2021 season.
“Doesn’t matter who we play,” Murray said. “We have to get better.”
That’s an understatement. It’s also a requirement. Or else.
Reach Bickley at email@example.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta mornings from 6 – 10 a.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.