You ain’t got no alibi: The 5 ugliest games in Arizona Cardinals history
Nov 7, 2023, 9:47 AM | Updated: Nov 9, 2023, 11:54 am
That Cardinals game on Sunday in Cleveland was ugly.
How ugly was it?
What if I told you the historic 27-0 eyesore of a shutout loss to the Cleveland Browns wasn’t one of the five ugliest games in the Cardinals’ history in Arizona? On second thought, it likely was, but nobody wants to read a top four list, right?
Here we go: buckle up for a less-than-flattering trip down memory lane. Here’s my list of the five ugliest games since 1988.
5. Denver Broncos 37, Phoenix Cardinals 0
Week 15 – Dec. 16, 1989 at Sun Devil Stadium – Tempe, Arizona
In the Cardinals’ second year in the Valley, they were surprisingly competitive for the first 10 weeks of the season. After they beat Dallas in Week 10, the Cards were 5-5 despite playing their first season without quarterback Neil Lomax, who had retired at the age of 30 due to degenerative hip arthritis.
Things went south after Week 10.
When the John Elway-led Denver Broncos came to town for a nationally-televised Saturday afternoon tilt in Tempe, it got really ugly. Karl Mecklenburg started the Broncos’ fun in the first quarter with a 23-yard touchdown return of a Timm Rosenbach fumble. By halftime, it was 20-0 Denver. It got to 27-0 in the third on a trick play when Broncos running back Bobby Humphrey hit Melvin Bratton on a 17-yard touchdown pass.
When it was all said and done, the Super Bowl-bound Broncos won 37-0. The Cardinals managed only 101 total yards behind the QB combo of Rosenbach and Gary Hogeboom, and had three turnovers to boot.
On top of everything, it was a cold, cloudy day in December and seemingly 90% of the 56,071 fans in Tempe were dressed in orange and blue. I distinctly remember Broncos defensive back Tyrone Braxton pumping up the road crowd before a kickoff in the second half. It was a rough day for early Valley adopters of the NFL team in town.
4. Kansas City Chiefs 49, Arizona Cardinals 0
Week 13 – Dec. 1, 2002 at Arrowhead Stadium – Kansas City, Missouri
This game featured some of the shakiest quarterback play in a single game in the history of the Cardinals franchise. Jake Plummer started for Arizona and struggled mightily.
Kansas City got on the board first, late in the opening quarter, when Priest Holmes scored on a 5-yard touchdown run. The Cardinals punted on their next possession and Dante Hall took it back 90 yards for a touchdown, and the rout was on.
The Cardinals actually lined up for a 33-yard field goal attempt by Bill Gramatica on their next drive, but holder Scott Player fumbled the snap and there went the Cardinals’ chance of scoring. Six plays later, Tony Richardson scored to make it 21-0 Kansas City.
Plummer managed to throw two picks in the final 45 seconds of the first half. He’d finish 14-of-31 for 88 yards and three picks — a passer rating of 12.6. Josh McCown relieved him and actually had a lower rating of 10.6 (4-of-12 for 45 yards and two picks).
3. New York Jets 7, Arizona Cardinals 6
Week 13 – Dec. 2, 2012 at MetLife Stadium – East Rutherford, New Jersey
I know, it’s a one-point loss. How ugly could it have been? You watched it. You know.
This game set football back a decade. It was a “stellar” quarterback matchup between Ryan Lindley of the Cardinals and New York’s Mark Sanchez.
We should have known early what a bloodbath this was going to be. On the Jets’ first play from scrimmage, Sanchez was picked off by Cardinals’ safety Kerry Rhodes and Arizona was in business with a first down at the New York 26-yard line. After gaining eight yards on first down, the Cardinals fed Beanie Wells on second down. Gain of 1. On third down. No gain. And on fourth down. Loss of 1.
The two offenses played a twisted game of ‘hold my beer’ all day long. Sanchez threw his third pick of the game early in the second quarter when Patrick Peterson got him and the Cardinals had the ball at their own 31. Three plays later, Lindley gave it right back to LaRon Landry.
The Cardinals took a lead on a 48-yard field goal by Jay Feely on the final play of the first half, but it wouldn’t hold.
Rex Ryan, the coach of the Jets, had finally seen enough of Sanchez and inserted Greg McElroy at quarterback in the third quarter. He actually led a 69-yard drive (aided by two Cardinals defensive penalties) that culminated in a 1-yard touchdown pass to Jeff Cumberland on the first play of the fourth quarter.
Unlike Ryan, Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt refused to make a change at quarterback and take Lindley out of the game for John Skelton (limited, yes, but a much better QB at the time). Lindley went 1-for-7 for 16 yards in the quarter and the Cardinals could only squeeze out another Feely field goal.
The Cardinals had 137 yards of offense and averaged 2.5 yards per play. They had a 16-minute deficit in time of possession. They had five first downs and were 0-for-15 on third-down opportunities.
2. Los Angeles Rams 33, Arizona Cardinals 0
Week 7 – Oct. 22, 2017 at Twickenham Stadium – Twickenham, England
Imagine traveling 5,200 miles overseas to get beat up literally and figuratively.
That’s what happened on this day in 2017 when the Rams ran roughshod over the Cardinals in England.
The Cardinals had the chance to score first, but Phil Dawson missed a 32-yard field goal on the first possession of the game. It went downhill from there. It was still only 6-0 LA in the second quarter when Carson Palmer was intercepted by Lamarcus Joyner on a first down play. Palmer suffered a broken arm and it would be the last snap he’d play in the NFL.
Todd Gurley scored on an 18-yard run on the next play.
Arizona managed just 60 yards on five offensive possessions after Drew Stanton took over for Palmer. The Rams held the ball for 39:01.
1. Seattle Seahawks 58, Arizona Cardinals 0
Week 14 – Dec. 9, 2012 at CenturyLink Field – Seattle, Washington
C’mon, you knew this had to be number one.
This happened just a week after the aforementioned debacle against the Jets but it was a different level of ugly.
After completing his weird game of QB chicken in the loss to the Jets, Whisenhunt went back to Skelton at quarterback. He threw an interception on the game’s first possession and then got called for a tripping penalty while making the tackle. The Seahawks cashed in with a field goal.
It was 17-0 in the second quarter when Skelton fumbled. On the next Arizona possession, Skelton was picked off by Richard Sherman, who returned it 19 yards for a touchdown. 24-0. Minutes later, Peterson muffed a punt at the 6-yard line that trickled into the end zone where it was recovered by Malcolm Smith for another score. 31-0.
Skelton threw another interception (Sherman got him again) deep in Seattle territory late in the second quarter and Peterson fumbled another punt right before halftime that the Seahawks turned into a Russell Wilson to Zach Miller touchdown to make it 38-0.
After Marshawn Lynch scored a 33-yard touchdown on the first possession of the second half, Skelton threw yet another interception and that would end his day.
The Cardinals finished with 154 yards of offense, averaged 2.7 yards per play and turned it over EIGHT TIMES! The loss was so bad it led to big organizational changes that resulted in Bruce Arians becoming head coach and Steve Keim taking over as general manager.