Cardinals face opportunity of season with 3 straight division games

Oct 31, 2022, 5:31 PM | Updated: 5:36 pm

Head coach Kliff Kingsbury of the Arizona Cardinals reacts during the first half against the Minnes...

Head coach Kliff Kingsbury of the Arizona Cardinals reacts during the first half against the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium on October 30, 2022 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)

(Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)

TEMPE — The Arizona Cardinals are 3-5, four games back from where they stood through eight games a year ago, and yet are still firmly in the NFC West race.

Their fate this season could hinge upon the next three games, as they face each of their division rivals starting with the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday.

There is no 7-1 Los Angeles Rams squad battling at the top of the division at this point like last year. The Seahawks pace the group at 5-3, only two games ahead of Arizona. The San Francisco 49ers are 4-4 and the Rams sit at 3-4 having already passed their bye week.

Head coach Kliff Kingsbury addressed the importance of the next three games with the Cardinals and mentioned the opportunity ahead several times while speaking to reporters Monday.

“If you are able to win all three, there’s an opportunity to be right there and at least have a piece of first place at the end of this deal,” Kingsbury said. “Our guys understand after starting where we did, that’s a great carrot out in front of you. So let’s take it one week at a time and try to get better.”

On the flip side, losses in these games could bury the Cardinals in the NFC West, as Kingsbury alluded they do not have any wiggle room with their current record.

Defender Isaiah Simmons said the team knows what lies ahead and feels it can still control its destiny in the division.

“I think everybody understands what the importance of this game is and what it can do for us and how we can just really build off of this week,” Simmons said. “I know we’re all looking forward to getting back on the field tomorrow, installing and getting everything going.”

The Cardinals have been in games late against the best of the NFC, including one-score losses to the undefeated Philadelphia Eagles and 6-1 Minnesota Vikings. Arizona is 2-3 in one-score games this season.

But falling behind early, third down success, injuries and lack of execution down the stretch have resulted in such defeats, as Kingsbury said Sunday the Cardinals are not playing clean enough to beat elite teams.

Sunday’s 34-26 loss to the Vikings felt like a missed opportunity considering the Cardinals were down five and had the ball in Minnesota territory late in the third quarter after a strip sack by Simmons.

Offensive and defensive execution is not where the team feels it should be, but optimism persists in the locker room.

“Again, just trying to stay focused on the task at hand, and for us, that’s Seattle coming up,” wide receiver Rondale Moore said Monday. “Go back and watch the tape from the last game. We’ll watch our tape from (Sunday) and get the mistakes fixed and again just continue to grow to get better. Try to go execute and win a ballgame.”

The Cardinals lost their first matchup with the Seahawks in Week 6, 19-9. They did not score an offensive touchdown that day but will have wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins this time around.

Arizona is also 0-2 in the division and 2-3 in the conference, records that could matter greatly to tiebreakers down the road.

But the NFC remains in flux nearing the halfway point of the season. Eight teams in the NFC have three or fewer wins, as only five squads in the conference are above .500 and nearly every team is still in the mix for a playoff spot.

“The division is still wide open really where it sits,” Kingsbury said. “There’s a lot to play for. And we just got to get back to work.”

Kingsbury called the stretch a litmus test, saying the team has to start playing its best football in a hurry.

The Cardinals face the Rams in Week 10, the 49ers in Mexico City in Week 11 and the L.A. Chargers in Week 12 before their bye.

Arizona won’t play a division opponent after the upcoming stretch until it sees San Francisco in the regular season finale.

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