Arizona Cardinals’ 2014 season reaches a turning point

Dec 2, 2014, 12:44 AM | Updated: 12:44 am

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TEMPE, Ariz. — It was just two weeks ago the Arizona Cardinals were 9-1 with the best record in the NFL and a three-game lead on the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC West.

It seems like ages.

Arizona lost its second consecutive game Sunday, falling to the Atlanta Falcons by a score of 29-18.

The offense, just as it did the prior week in Seattle, sputtered, gaining just 329 yards while failing to reach the end zone until the final minutes after the outcome had been decided. The defense, which had been stout all season, was gashed for 500 yards, including 142 on the ground.

It was by far the worst effort this team has put forth in 2014, and one that has led to some wondering if, finally, the numerous injuries have caught up to them.

But no matter how bleak things may look right now, the Cardinals are still 9-3 and in control of the NFC West, along with their possible playoff future. There are four games left to sort it all out, meaning their season has reached a bit of a turning point.

“Not the next four, this next one,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. “The next one is huge to maintain where we’re at. The sky has not fallen yet. We’re still No. 1, and we’re playing at home (this week). We need to stay there this week and just take them one at a time.”

Arians is disappointed in his team’s performance the last two weeks, but at the same time knows that while the season has hit a bit of a speed bump, the road continues on. The Cardinals are still in the driver’s seat, which is a message he’s imparted on his players.

“He just wants to make sure that we understand the position that we’re in,” Patrick Peterson said of what the coach is telling them. “As a ballclub, we don’t want to piss away this opportunity that we have in front of us.”

Peterson pointed out how last season, the Cardinals struggled early in the season only to get hot late and just miss the postseason; the hope is to avoid an inverse, yet similar fate this time around.

He said there isn’t any concern within the locker room that their chances are slipping away, because every team will go through a rough patch during the season.

But not all struggles are created equal.

“What is concerning is the way we’re losing,” linebacker Kevin Minter said. “There’s a lot of mistakes; mistakes we don’t make at each position.

“It has to turn around, or… it will get bad these last four games.”

How it turns around is the big question. Arizona’s last four opponents are all of the “tough” variety, starting this Sunday with the Kansas City Chiefs at home. That game is followed by a Thursday night game at the St. Louis Rams, a home game against the Seattle Seahawks and then the season finale, on the road against the San Francisco 49ers.

Right about now it would be easy to look at that slate and wonder if there is a win to be found among it, but this team has not lost its confidence.

“I think it’s still there,” Minter said. “We did show some resiliency early in the season. We came back and played good football after the Denver game, we obviously went on a bit of a winning streak. I feel like we can do it again; it’s just you’ve got to re-focus, just get back to it.”

And that’s the silver lining to all of this. While things are not going well now, this team has proven itself plenty capable, having already knocked off some of the NFC’s better teams. So would the players start doubting themselves now?

“No, because they are the same guys that won nine,” Arians said. “The same guys who beat Philly and Dallas and all those teams. You learn why you lost, and you learn why you won, and hopefully you get it corrected at home.”

The quickest way to restore confidence and, perhaps, a bit of order would be to win Sunday. If the Cardinals do that, then all of a sudden the skies brighten and the conversations turn back to playoff positioning rather than playoff chances.

At the same time, though, a loss would be equally damaging.

“I will say this is definitely a turning point,” Peterson said. “This team can go up or this team can take a major step back, and that’s something that we don’t want to do.

“Like I said earlier, this is an opportunity that we do not want to piss away because we had this feeling last year, depending on other teams to help us get in the playoffs. Now we’re in a position of controlling our own destiny; we can’t let this fall to the wayside because you don’t know when you’re going to get these type of seasons back. So we have to make sure these last four games, 16 quarters, every guy on this roster has to put 110 percent in, because that’s what it’s going to take to get us to the playoffs.”

Atlanta Falcons running back Steven Jackson (39) runs against Arizona Cardinals strong safety Deone Bucannon (36) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 30, 2014, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson ) Atlanta Falcons tight end Levine Toilolo (80) makes a touch-down catch against the Arizona Cardinalsduring the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 30, 2014, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore) Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Devin Hester (17) works against Arizona Cardinals punter Drew Butler (2) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 30, 2014, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson) Atlanta Falcons free safety Dwight Lowery (20) runs after making an interception against the Arizona Cardinals during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 30, 2014, in Atlanta. Atlanta Falcons Prince Shembo (53) William Moore (25) look on. (AP Photo/John Bazemore) Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones hits the turf for a touchdown as Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson (21) defends and Side Judge James Coleman watches the play during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 30, 2014, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore) Atlanta Falcons free safety Dwight Lowery (20) collides with Arizona Cardinals quarterback Drew Stanton (5) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 30, 2014, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore) Atlanta Falcons free safety Dwight Lowery (20) runs by Arizona Cardinals running back Andre Ellington (38) after Lowery intercepted a passed ball during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 30, 2014, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore) Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Harry Douglas (83) runs toward Arizona Cardinals free safety Rashad Johnson (26) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 30, 2014, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson) Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) runs over Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson (21)during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 30, 2014, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson) Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Harry Douglas (83) runs into Arizona Cardinals middle linebacker Larry Foote (50) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 30, 2014, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore) Arizona Cardinals free safety Rashad Johnson (26) runs after he intercepted the ball and Atlanta Falcons running back Jacquizz Rodgers (32) attempts a tackle during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 30, 2014, in Atlanta. Johnson scored a touchdown on the play. (AP Photo/John Bazemore) Arizona Cardinals outside linebacker Lorenzo Alexander (97) prepares to tackle Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman (24) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 30, 2014, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman (24) is hit by Arizona Cardinals strong safety Deone Bucannon (36) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 30, 2014, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson ) Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman (24) leaps over Arizona Cardinals cornerback Jerraud Powers (25) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 30, 2014, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson ) Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Devin Hester (17) misses a ball as Arizona Cardinals free safety Rashad Johnson (26) looks on during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 30, 2014, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore) Atlanta Falcons cornerback Desmond Trufant (21) runs back a fumbled ball against the Arizona Cardinals during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 30, 2014, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson) Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) moves past Arizona Cardinals middle linebacker Larry Foote (50) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 30, 2014, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore) Atlanta Falcons cornerback Desmond Trufant (21) runs a fumbled ball back against Arizona Cardinals tight end Darren Fells (85) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 30, 2014, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore) Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians speaks on the sidelines during the first half of an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons, Sunday, Nov. 30, 2014, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson) Atlanta Falcons free safety Dwight Lowery (20) defends as Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Michael Floyd (15) makes the catch during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 30, 2014, in Atlanta. The ball was stripped from Floyd and Atlanta Falcons cornerback Desmond Trufant recovered the ball (AP Photo/John Bazemore) Atlanta Falcons defensive end Stansly Maponga (90) hits Arizona Cardinals quarterback Drew Stanton (5) causing a fumble during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 30, 2014, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore) Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) works against the Arizona Cardinals during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 30, 2014, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore) Atlanta Falcons strong safety Kemal Ishmael (36) vies for a loose ball with Arizona Cardinals running back Marion Grice (23) during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 30, 2014, in Atlanta. The Atlanta Falcons recovered the fumbled ball. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson) Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) runs against Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson (21) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 30, 2014, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore) Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith watches play against the Arizona Cardinals during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 30, 2014, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore) Atlanta Falcons defensive end Jonathan Babineaux (95) and Atlanta Falcons defensive end Cliff Matthews (98) try to tackle Arizona Cardinals quarterback Drew Stanton (5) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 30, 2014, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore) Atlanta Falcons defensive end Jonathan Babineaux hits Arizona Cardinals quarterback Drew Stanton (5) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 30, 2014, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore) Arizona Cardinals running back Marion Grice (23) runs against Atlanta Falcons cornerback Desmond Trufant (21) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 30, 2014, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore) Atlanta Falcons cornerback Josh Wilson (26) celebrates his interception with Atlanta Falcons' Kemal Ishmael during the second half of an NFL football game against the Arizona Cardinals, Sunday, Nov. 30, 2014, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson ) Atlanta Falcons cornerback Robert McClain (27) celebrates an interception by Atlanta Falcons' Josh Wilson during the second half of an NFL football game against the Arizona Cardinals, Sunday, Nov. 30, 2014, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson) Arizona Cardinals running back Stepfan Taylor (30) runs in a two-point conversion against the Atlanta Falcons during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 30, 2014, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson) Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith left, speaks with Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians after the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 30, 2014, in Atlanta. The Atlanta Falcons won 29-18. (AP Photo/John Bazemore) Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, left, speaks with Arizona Cardinals quarterback Drew Stanton after the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 30, 2014, in Atlanta. The Atlanta Falcons won 29-18. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

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