Six Points: Arizona Cardinals can’t dig out of a hole in Philadelphia

Dec 1, 2013, 11:57 PM | Updated: 11:58 pm

The Arizona Cardinals saw their four-game winning streak end Sunday in Philadelphia with a 24-21 loss to the Eagles.

Philadelphia, behind another strong performance from quarterback Nick Foles, who had three touchdown passes, built a 24-7 lead early in the third quarter.

The Cardinals’ defense stiffened after that, allowing the Eagles just 37 total yards on their last six possessions.

The offense, which struggled for a good portion of the game, came to life in the third. With just over five minutes to go in the quarter, Carson Palmer hit Michael Floyd on a 23-yard touchdown pass to pull the Cardinals within 10 points at 24-14. With 4:45 to go in the fourth, Arizona got within a field goal with Palmer hitting tight end Jim Dray on a three-yard scoring pass.

On the following possession, John Abraham got pressure on Foles, who threw a ball up for grabs which cornerback Patrick Peterson intercepted at the Philadelphia 43-yard line. But safety Tyrann Mathieu was flagged for defensive holding, nullifying the play and giving the Eagles a first down. The Eagles would possess the ball for nearly another two minutes before punting again.

Arizona faced a 3rd and 5 at their own 15-yard line — Palmer threw the ball behind a wide-open Andre Roberts, bringing up fourth down. On the next play, Palmer looked for Floyd, who appeared to be mugged by Philadelphia corner Bradley Fletcher. No flag was thrown and the Cards turned it over on downs.

With 1:42 left, the Eagles faced third down on the Cardinals’ 9-yard line, Foles uncorked an incomplete pass, but Arizona linebacker Matt Shaughnessy was called for a holding penalty, giving Philly a first down and killing any hopes of a comeback win.

Here are six things that stood out to me from Sunday’s game.

1. Rashard Mendenhall’s resurgence – The veteran running back played well for the second straight week, gaining 76 yards on 18 carries.

After averaging just 1.2 yards per attempt in a win over Jacksonville two weeks ago, Mendenhall averaged 4.2 yards per tote for the second straight week. His performance was especially important due to the absence of rookie playmaker Andre Ellington, who sat out with a knee injury.

Mendenhall is clearly healthy for the first time since training camp, and it’s showing on the football field.

2. The offensive line – While the big boys up front did a nice job in the running game, they struggled mightily in pass protection, giving up five sacks. Trent Cole and Brandon Graham had two apiece and Demeco Ryans had the other for the Eagles, who came into the game tied for 26th in the league with only 24 sacks.

Left tackle Bradley Sowell, who has been solid in recent weeks against pass rushers like J.J. Watt of Houston and Robert Mathis of Indianapolis, took two steps backward Sunday.

3. The underthrow – Not once, but twice, Palmer underthrew receivers who had a step on their defenders. Both ended in interceptions. On the Cardinals’ second possession, Palmer missed a throw to Michael Floyd and it was picked by Nate Allen who returned it to midfield.

The second came late in the third quarter, when Palmer came up short on a throw to Andre Roberts and it was picked by Carey Williams at the Eagles’ 34-yard line. Roberts had two steps on Williams, and a good, leading throw would have likely led to a touchdown.

On both occasions, Palmer had a clean pocket to operate in and simply didn’t put enough arm into the throw.

It looked like the veteran had conquered the interception bug that had plagued him for the first nine weeks of the season, but that’s simply not the case. It’s very hard to win football games when your quarterback is responsible for three turnovers, and that’s the bottom line.

4. “Patrick Peterson back deep to receive” – Consider this my weekly plea to not hear these six words for the rest of the season. Another boneheaded decision by Peterson on a punt return cost the Cardinals dearly.

In the third quarter, Philadelphia punter Donnie Jones uncorked a 69-yard punt from deep in his own territory, and a flag was thrown on the snap. Peterson saw it, assumed it was on Philadelphia, and let the punt sail over his head and roll down to the Cardinals’ 17-yard line. It turned out the flag was on the Cards for an illegal substitution and the Eagles declined it.

Peterson has gone on record by saying he wants to be the best cornerback in football. It’s time for the coaching staff to let him concentrate on that aspect of the game, because not only is he not helping the Cardinals’ efforts while returning punts, he’s hurting them.

5. Tight end déjà vu – Another item that could seemingly show up every week on this list — the Cardinals’ defense, for as good as it is, can’t cover tight ends. Zach Ertz and Brent Celek combined for nine catches, 97 yards and three touchdowns on the day.

For the season, Arizona has allowed 79 catches for 1,042 yards and 14 touchdowns to opposing tight ends. Eleven of the touchdowns have come in Cardinal losses.

If the playoffs are in the Cardinals’ future, they’ve got to shore up in this area, but considering they’ve still got St. Louis, Seattle and San Francisco on the schedule, and those teams have riddled Arizona’s defense for six tight end scores this season, that doesn’t seem likely.

6. The zebras – You knew I couldn’t go a whole column without mentioning this, right?

In the fourth quarter, the Cardinals were flagged for two defensive holding penalties — one which nullified a momentum-shifting interception and one that would have brought up a fourth down and a field goal attempt. Arizona could have gotten the ball back trailing by six with well over a minute to play.

And both were iffy calls at best.

Then, on the Cardinals’ final possession, facing a 4th and 5, Palmer threw deep to Floyd down the right side, and he was absolutely manhandled by Fletcher.

I don’t expect officiating to be perfect, but I do expect it to be consistent. Both Arizona flags, on Tyrann Mathieu and Matt Shaughnessy, featured minimal contact. Fletcher’s treatment of Floyd would likely have led to an arrest if it didn’t occur on the football field.

I’m not saying that the Cardinals would have won the game had the calls gone their way, but it sure is hard to dig yourself out of a hole when a group of gentlemen in striped shirts keep shoveling more dirt on top of you. All you want is an opportunity to make a play to win the game and the Cardinals were denied that opportunity.

“I’ve got to go watch the film, and I’m not gonna get fined for criticizing officials,” head coach Bruce Arians told Paul Calvisi following the game. “The officials didn’t lose their game, they try to do their best.”

Something tells me that attitude may change once B.A. sees the film.

And if that’s the officials’ best, the National Football League has got a big problem on their hands.

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Six Points: Arizona Cardinals can’t dig out of a hole in Philadelphia