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Thursday night game on a national stage. Both teams were dealing with short workweeks coming off physical games (Minnesota was blacktopped by Seattle. Cardinals beat. the Rams handily). It's the beginning of Snow Bird season. We already hearing that Packers fans from Wisconsin (who are said to travel well or have moved to the Valley are snapping up tickets. No reason we wouldn't expect the same thing from Minnesota. So much for home field advantage.
Two ways to look at the 38 - 7 Viking loss to Seattle last week - (1) Minnesota isn't really very good or (2) The Vikings are tied with the Packers for the NFC North lead, are embarrassed by the lopsided loss vs. Seattle and will come out fighting for survival. Facing four tough games vs. Minnesota, Philly, Green Bay and Seattle with Seattle 3 games back,Coach Arians and his merry men could notafford to ease-up on the gas pedal.
Sack Saves 23 - 20 Win Over Vikes.
The Bottom Line:
A left guard and edge rusher were unlikely heroes of a game which Carson Palmer aptly decribed as "weird." Mike ("Good Hands") Iupati caught a deflected pass to pick up a crucial first down and Dwight ("Spin Move") Freeney finished off a sack with a chop across Minnesota QB Teddie Bridgewater's right arm to force a fumble on the final play of the game and deny the Vikings an easy field goal that would have tied the game and sent it into OT.
Cards were given opportunities to expand an early lead, grab momentum and put their boot heel on the proverbial Minnesota throat, but they allowed the Vikings to hang around to where they tied the game at the half and again deep in the 4Q. The Cards had trouble containing determined RB Adrian ("8 Carries") Peterson and throttling down Minnesota's short game which seemed to set up passes to one perimeter as counters to the threat of Peterson up the middle or to the other perimeter via sweeps or screens. Game changers: (1) Three Cardinal take-aways (including the Freeney sack) and TD catches/runs by John Brown and Floyd down the right sideline off blocks by Nelson and Fitz respectively. Win clinches a playoff spot and puts pressure on Seattle to run the table on its final four games if they're to deny the Cards some sort of home field advantage. .
Cards received. TB on the KO. Carson engineered a 14-play (7:37) scoring drive capped by a 27-yard Catanzaro FG. Completions of +19 yards to Floyd and 17-yards to Fitz spearheaded the drive which stalled at the Viking 9. Cards 3 - Vikes 0.
TB on the KO. Two runs by Peterson (+4 apiece) set up pass to a wide open Asiata for 22 yards was followed by an 11-yard pass to Wright and a 21-yard run up the middle by Peterson and a 9-yard completion to Rudolph. Final play of the drive was a 9-yard run up the middle by Peterson (who broke a bunch of tackles). This game isn't going to be easy. Vikes 7 - Cards 3.
Cards came right back. TB on the KO. Cards moved to their own 35 in four plays. Palmer then hit John Brown on a deep (L to R) crossing pattern Brown took it up the right sideline past a nifty "post block" by JJ Nelson that sealed the sideline and in for a 65-yard score. Cards 10 - Vikes 7.
KO returned to the Viking 23. Cards held them to 3 & out and Arizona ran off one play to end the quarter.
1st Quarter Score: Cards 10 - Vikes 7.
Cards couldn't get much going and punted from their own 45. Fair catch at the Minn 11. a Bridgewater completion to Ellison for +41 yards helped set the VIkes up at the Cardinal 35. They were able to move as far as the Cardinal 23 but on the next play, Wright caught a pass for 8 yards only to have the ball stripped (& fumble recovered) by Bucannon. (Whew! Threat thwarted).
Cards took over on their own 15. A 26-yard completion to Fells and a run off right tackles by D Johnson helped move the Cards within FG range at the Viking 33. But (as has happened a bit too often of late) Palmer was then sacked for minus-7 yards to take us out of FG range and the Cards had to punt from the Minnesota 40. TB on the punt (which, therefore, turned out to be for "20 yards").
Vikings ball on their own 20, with 3:44 till halftime. They managed to move to the Cardinal 15 where Bridgewater was sacked for minus-1 yards by Calais Campbell. Walsh's FG attempt was good from 44. Cards 10 - Vikes 10.
First Half Score: Cards 10 - Vikings 10.
(This game is becoming a seesaw war iof attrition and the Vikes have a one-possession edge receiving at halftime). KO returned to the Viking 29 (Oh Oh!). Vikes managed to dink and dunk their way to the Arizona 35 (Longest play of the 7 play drive was a 14-yard pass over the middle to Rudolph. On the final play of the possession, Okafor and Mauro blew up a jet-sweep reverse in the backfield. Okafor recovered.
Card ball on their own 43. They managed to grind their way to the Viking 42, where Palmer (under pressure) scrambled inside the pocket and finally found Floyd down the right sideline. Floyd tight-roped his way (past a gorgeous post-block by Fitz) to a 42-yard score to take firm possession of the game. Cards 17 - Minnesota 10..
TB on the KO. Cards held Vikes to 3 & out. Punt was returned to the Card 29. Palmer then led the Cards on a 16 play scoring drive; the final play of which carried over into the 4th quarter. Cards reached the Viking 2-yard line and had the opportunity to open up a 14-point lead and take total control of the game, but once again, predictable play calling, poor execution and a minus-7 yard sack of Palmer forced us to settle for a FG attempt.
Third Quarter Score: Cards 17 - Minnesota 10.
Catanzaro's 23 yard attempt from the 5 was "good." (Oh well, a 10 point leadis better than 7 points). Cards 20 - Minnesota 10.
Card coverage team let their guard down & Patterson returned the KO to the Viking 36. The Vikes managed to reach the Cardinal 36-yard line but the Cardinal defense stiffened and the Vikes walked away with an impressive Walsh 54-yard FG. Cards 20 - Minnesota 13.
TB on the KO. Cards went 3 & out. Punt was returned to the Cardinal 45 but a holding penalty moved the Vikes back to their own 12 (Note - an underrated turning point of the game). 10:05 to go. Bridgewater led the Vikes on an 11-play (5:10) scoring drive capped by a 7-yard Bridgewater TD pass to Wallace. (Bridgewater was chased out of the pocket, scrambled around and finally threw off his back foot to Wallace who had outrun Bethel going from right to left in the end zone). Tie score: Cards 20 - Minnesota 20.
4:55 left. KW returned the KO to the Card 16. A deep-right pass for Floyd was intercepted by the Vikes but nullfied due to a defensive off-sides flag. Palmer sliced and diced his way to the Viking 29 in 10 plays. (Key plays: a 22-yard completion to Floyd and a 14-yard completion to D Johnson. On a 3rd & 16 at the Viking 29, Palmer tried to throw for a first down (instead of running down the clock), but pass was incomplete (stopping the clock with 1:28 left). Catanzaro was good from 47, but there was still 1:23 left to play. Cards 23 - Minnesota 20.
Final Viking drive - TB on the KO. They moved the ball methodically, but a sack of Bridgewater by Jefferson helped keep the clock running. They managed to get 9 plays run off but (with just 0:13 left to play) instead of trying for a FG from the 31 yard line, Bridgewater tried to throw the ball and got sacked by Dwight Freeney. (The Cardinal sackmeister managed to apply a tomahawk chop to Bridgewater's right arm before he threw the ball. Ball came loose. Campbell recovered. One Palmer knee with 0:05 left. Game over.
Final Score: Cards 23 - Minnesota 20.
Passing: Palmer was 25 for 35 (310 yards, 2 TD's and 0 picks). Bridgewater was 25 of 36 (335 yards, 1TD and 0 pics).
Takeaways: Cards plus-3. Cards recovered 3 fumbles (Okafor, Campbell and Bucannon); Vikes recovered 0).
Rushing: Cards gained 175 net yards (4.9 ypc). Ram runners were held to 66 (4.4 ypc). D Johnson gained 92-yards on 19 carries. Cards actually "held" Peterson to 69 yards on 23 carries.
Receiving: Floyd, Fitz and D Johnson each had 5 catches. Floyd gained 102 yards and had one TD. Jphn Brown gained 78 yards and had the other TD.
Cardinal Run/Pass Ratio: . (Runs: 29/Pass: 35). Vike Run/Pass Ratio: 24/336).
Tackles: Badger (11), Bucannon (8), Bethel (7), R Johnson and Mathieu (3 apiece).
Sacks - Cards were credited with three sacks (Campbell, Freeney, Jefferson). Vikes had 2 sacks.
Situational Efficiency: Cards converted 6 of 13 third downs (46%).Vikes were 6 of 11 (54%). Cards were 0 of 2 in the Red Zone (50%). Vikes were 2of 3 (67%).
Penalties: Cards were penalized 4 times for 30 yards (Vikes were penalized 3 times for 25 yds).
Time of Possession: Cards 31:59. Vikes 28:01
No (known) additional injuries.
It's a key W" that clinches a playoff berth, and gives us a leg up on playoff byes and home field advantage. .
The three turnovers were the difference-makers in the game.
Calais Campbell had a monster game. Freeney proved his worth. Mathieu's 11 tackles
D Johnson picked up 92 rushing yards.
The two "post" blocks by Nelson and Fitz that enabled John Brown and Floyd to tightrope down the right sideline for TD's.
Next game is a night game more than 10 days away - time for bodies to heal.
Mike "Good Hands" Iupati.
The Darker Side
11 & 2 and in the playoffs, baby! 10+ days to rest banged up bodies and get a few injured veterans back. Focus will be on rooting against Seattle and seeing what the Eagles can or cannot (or will not) do.
Final point - the football nets were awfully kind to us (BA will be featured at 9 pm ET tonight). That makes me very very nervous. (I'm just not that certain we're really that good). Fortunately, the talk coming out of the QB Room and Other Room says all the right things. But talk is cheap. I hope that - within the bounds of the NFLPA agreement - the next week and a half will feature legitimate practice focus and action on such things as getting up our hands on the pass rush and wrapping up tackles (i.e. two tacklers bouncing off the Viking receiver like pinballs late in the 4Q almost cost us the football game). Thinking and talking about the Super Bowl is nice, but it doesn't mean bleep unless we get there...and then win it.