We have the "early game" this Sunday. Last week, Cards won a squeaker on a last-second Catanzaro FG. They enter this game 4 - 4 - 1. After opening the season with five straight wins, the Vikings then dropped four straight to the Eagles, Bears, Lions and Redskins to go 5 & 4. Like the Cardinals - when they take a look at their playoff position at this point in the season, Minnesota's arm-pits are beginning to leak. While not "life or death", both teams figured to view this game as a "must-win."
Santa Claus came to town in Minnesota yesterday in the form of two huge Cardinal 100-yd giveaways - a 100+ yard interception return and a 100+ kickoff return to open the second half half - to hand the Vikes a game we shoulda won: 30 - 24. . Cards had three chances to pull ahead in the 4th quarter but the OL failed to protect Carson Palmer.
The Bottom Line:
Cards played down to their worst weaknesses - Three glaring examples: (1) Carson Palmer - as he has done before - turned gold into crappola (from 3 - 7 points for us into 7 points for them) - when he threw into double-coverage in the end zone to Xavier Rhodes (he's on their team). Rhodes returned it 100+ yards for a Viking TD). (2) Sloppy Special Teams play (cost us a 100+ yd kickoff return in and around 11 cardboard cutouts of creatures posing as Cardinal players. (3) Pass Blocking Breakdowns (which left Carson Palmer on his back three times with the game on the line). Down by only 6-pts midway thru the 4Q, Palmer was sacked at 5:61 (on a 2nd & 10), was flagged for grounding at 4:31 (on 3rd & 8), was sacked for minus-9 at 1:53 (on a 3rd & 10) and at 0:44 was sacked for minus-15.
This leaves the Cards at 4 - 5 - 1 operating on pure gasoline fumes - chasing the fast disappearing Seahawks (who won yesterday) for a division title and playoff berth. (Good luck with that).
Cards once again won the opening toss but went three & out. Vikings scored on their first possession and led 7 - 0. Cards tied it up on an 11 play TD drive ending on a 1-yd TD run by "Davey Touchdown." They went into the 2Q tied 7 - 7. Cards established a 10 - 7 lead on but gave it up when Paterson caught a short pass from Bradford and outran Bucannon across and down the field for a 30-yd TD. XP no good.Minn 13 - 10. On the next series of downs, the Cards moved to the Viking 9 in eight plays, but on the 9th, Palmer's pass for Smokey in the left corner of the end zone was picked off by Rhodes and returned 100+ yds for a Td. Minn now up 20 - 10. Cards could have folded right then but came back with a 7-play TD drive capped by nifty 29-yard catch & run up the middle by Gresham. Vikes 20 - Cards 17 at halftime.
"Uh oh!" we exclaimed when we saw Paterson decide to run Catananzaro's kick out of the end zone. And for good reason. He returned the kickoff for 104 yds and a TD which expanded the Min lead to 27 - 17. Another interception by Rhodes set up a 27-yard Forbath FG to make it 30 - 17 Vikes.. Cards came back with a TD early in the 4Q on a 4-yd pass to D Johnson to make it 30 - 24, but that was all the scoring the Cards could accomplish (Palmer got sacked on 3 fourth quarter possessions and that's all she wrote. Final Score: Vikes 30 - Cards 24.
Cards won the toss and received. TB on KO. Cards opened with a false start flag on Shipley and then went 3 & out. Punt was returned to the Cardinal 44. Bradford commandeered a 5-play TD drive. Final play was a challenged incomplete 16-yd pass to Thele which was reversed. Vikings 7 - Cards 0
TB on the KO. Palmer put together an 11-play TD drive capped by a one-yard TD run up the middle by Johnson. Key plays of drive: Pass to Fitz for +16 and Completion (& yeoman-like run after the catch) by Fells. Vikings 7 - Cards 7.
TB on the KO. after giving up a 1st down, the Cardinal defense stiffened. Minnesota punted from their own 35. Punt was returned to the AZ 12 (& with a holding penalty tacked on) pushed the Cards to their own 6. Cards served up three straight helpings of David Johnson running plays (for +9, +10 and +11-yds to end the quarter.
1st Quarter Score: Vikings 7 - Cards 7.
Cards dinked and dunked theirway to the Minn 16 where they settled for a 34-yd Catanzaro FG. Drive took 12 plays (6:26). Cards 10 - Vikings 7
A 30-yd pass & run to Paterson (who outran Buccannon) and a defensive pass interference call on a flea-flcker play set up a 1-yd TD run by Asiato (who was ruled down by contact short of the goal line but the play reversed for a TD). XP was no good. Vikings 13 - Cards 10.
Golden returned the KO to the Cardinal 48. Cards marched down to the Viking 9 in 8 plays, but on the 9th play of the drive, Palmer threw into double-coverage at the rear left of the endzone. Pass was picked off by Xavier Rhodes who outran everyone for a 100+yard TD return. Vikings 20 - Cards 10..
TB on the KO. 15 and 9-yd completions to D Johnson helped set up a 29-yard TD competion to Gresham. Minn 20 - Cards 17
TB on the KO. A minus-14 yard sack of Bradford by Okafor helped end the quarter.
First Half Score: Minn 20 - Cards 17
Minn received. Patterson returned to KO 104 yards for a TD. Minn 27 - Cards 17
TB on the KO. Cards held to 3 & out. Punt fair caught at the Minn 24. Penalties forced the Vikes to punt from their own 23. Punt was returned to the Card 31. On the first play from scrimmage, Palmers pass for Floyd was picked off by Rhodes. Vikes ball at their own 16. They managed to drive down to the Card 9 in 11 plays, but had t settle for a 27-yard FOrbath FG. Minn 30 - Cards 17
TB on the KO followed by a +6 d run by D Johnsonto end the quarter.
Third Quarter Score: Minn 30 - Cards 17
Cards picked up a first down but had to punt four plays later from their own 44. Punt fair caught at the Minn 16. They managed to move out to their own 37 (and survived a fumble by Bradford that was ruled an incomplete fwd pass) but on the next play, Bradford was sacked for minus-11 yards and his fumble recovered by Bucannon. (Play was upheld on review). Cards took over on the Minn 27. Six plays later, Palmer hit D Johnson for a 4-yd TD. (Cards are within one-TD and an extra point of winning it). Minn 30 - Cards 24
TB on the KO. Vikes held to 3 & out. Punt returned to Min 47, but Cards (crippled by an 11-yd grounding call on Palmer) also held to 3 & out. Punt (sans offensive blocking flag) gave Vikes the ball on their own 9-yd lline with 4:07 left on clock. They went 3 & out and punted from their own 15. Punt was downed at the Card 13 with 2:20 left to play. The rest of the Cardinal offense was basically "Carson Palmer running for his life (with a roughing penalty thrown in). A minus-15 yd sack on 4th & 1 pretty much closed the deal. One knee/game over. Minn 30 - Cards 24
Final Score: Minn 30 - Cards 24
Notable Game Stats.
Passing: Palmer was 20 for 38, 198 yards 2 TD's and 2 Interceptions. (Bradford was 20 for 28, 169 yds, 1 TD's and 0 picks).
Rushing: D Johnson gained103 yards on 22 carries & 1TD. (McKinnon picked up 44 yds on 16 carries).
Receiving: D Johnson led the Cards with 7 grabs for 57 yards. Fitz was next with 63 yards on 6 catches. No one else had more than 2 catches. (Diggs caught 6 for 102 yards & a TD. Thielen caught 5 for 65 and a TD. Patterson caught 4 for 53).
Turnovers: Minus-1. Cards had no fumbles. Palmer had 2 passes intercepted. Cards recovered one fumble/intercepted no passes.
Penalties: Cards were penalized 8 times for 96 yards.Vikes were penalized 10 times for 73 yards.
Run/Pass Ratio: Cards: 28/38. (Minn: 24/28)
Kicking: Catanzaro was 1 for 1 in FG attempts. (Forbath was 1 for 1 but had an XP blocked).
Net Punting Yards: Butler averaged 37.8. (Minn punter averaged 47.3)
Tackles: Minter led with 7 followed by Bethel, C Jones and Bucannon (5 apiece). Rucker and Swearinger had 4.
Sacks: Cards sacked Bradford 2 times (C Jones 1, Okafor 1). Palmer was sacked four times)..
Interceptions: Palmer was picked off twice (one for a 100+ yd TD)(Bradford wasn't intercepted)
Third Down Efficiency: Cards were 4 of 13 for 30%. (Minn was 6 of 13 for 46%).
Red Zone Efficiency: Cards were 2 of 4 (50%). (Minn was 2 of 4 for 50%).
Time of Possession: Cards 31:02 / Minn 28:58
Card rush defense gave up an average of 3.0 per rushing play (Card rushers averaged 3.5)
Despite two Viking 100-yd "home runs", the Cards were in it till the end.
D Johnson nickname should be: "Davey Touchdown."..
Chandler Jones is living up to his high expectations.
Cardrun defense held Vikes to 72 net rushing yards.
The Dark Side
What was Carson Palmer thinking when he threw into double-coverage to hand Minnesota 6 - 10 free points? (Why do we continue asking this kind of question week after week)?
Don't mean to nitpick, but BA's play calling seems a tad predictable.
3rd down Conversions - They were 6 for 13/we were 4 for 13.
Offensive Line pass blocking was abysmal - Carson Palmer was sacked three times in the 4Q with the game on the line (& forced into a grounding flag on a fourth).
Their defensive secondary made more plays than ours did.
On both the KO and Interception returns, it looked as though our tacklers were jumping out of the way of the ball carrier.
General Observation - For a so-called playoff contender",
there were too few big play opportunities cashed in on and too many big plays given up.
Seattle won convincingly yesterday. We're now trailing them by something like 2.5 games. Equally ominous, we're not playing like we need to in order to gain ground.
While we're not big fans of questioning coaching, play calling, personnel-decisions during the season (i.e. let's see how we did after 16 games), we've seen enough to feel that considerable soul-searching should be done along the lines of: "Why aren't we winning?" and - considering all areas of football, from play calling to medical operations - "What do we need to do to re-earn our status as Super Bowl contender.
As of now, we've moved out of the "Cards are a disappointment" category and into the bottom quintile of teams totally ignored by the national media.
Hate to admit it. Remain eternally hopeful (Next game vs. Atlanta is winnable). But we deserve our mediocre record.