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CARDS BLOW 14 PT. 4Q LEAD - LOSE TO MINNESOTA IN OT.

The Setup
The Cardinals are coming off a gut-wrenching loss to "the best team in the NFL" and - at 3 & 4 - are within one game of last place in their divisioon. Vikes are reeling from a number of recent events; many of which put them in the High Drama category. They're 2 & 5 (which, according to past trends) all but eliminates them from the playoffs. In addition to being good old diva, Brett Favre, the Vikings' aging star QB is suffering from ankle fractures and a banged up jaw. He's also said to have had "issues" with head coach Brad Childress. Speaking of Childress, the Viking HC abitrarily whacked star wide receive Randy Moss, apparently without clueing in General Management or Ownership or for that matter, Viking players (many of whom publically expressed their distress). Minnesota fandom can't be all that thrilled either - which may take a bit of the sting out of the usually loud, hostile Viking crowd. (They may remain hostile - but toward who)? There has been public speculation about Childress's future with the Vikes. All of this could serve as a distraction to Viking players if not a dividing wedge in the lockerroom. Or, conversely, it could serve to rally the team together.

Moving back to the issue of "football", the Cardinal passing attack,. while showing glimmers of effectiveness last week vs. TB, is still too turnover-prone. Until Anderson and/or Hall get their mojo together, the defense is being asked to carry the load (They've shown they're capable, but do they have the "wanna")? Meanwhile, the Vikes (already sans Moss) will hit the field with 2 other iffy wide receivers (Percy Harvin and Bernard Berrian). Add to this, the banged up Favre and we may see a considerably larger dose of Adrian Peterson. (Or - if the Vikes want to exploit the Cardinal defense's reputation for having trouble stopping physical smashmouth running attacks - Childress could resort to handing the ball to rookie thumper, Toby Gerhart to pound away at the Cardinal interior.

This game could go either way.

The Bottom Line:
The Cardinals blew a 14 point lead with 4:39 left in the 4Q to lose in OT 27 - 24. They started slowly - leaving 7  early points on the field when Kerry Rhodes, intercepted a Brett Favre pass, threaded his way almost to the end zone before he had the ball stripped & recovered by the Vikings in the end zone for a touchback.

The game then settled into a war of attrition with the teams tied 0 - 0 at the end of the 1st quarter. Minnesota scored a TD early in the 2Q but the Cardinals answered right back on the ensuing kickoff with LSH taking it 96 yards to the house. Longwell's FG on the next Minny drive made it 10 - 7 Vikes. Not much happened til the Cards got the ball back with 1:30 left til halftime. A nifty run and catch by Andre Roberts off a pass from Anderson made it 14 - 10 Cards at halftime.

 On the opening 2H kickoff, O Brien Schofield stripped the ball from Percy Harvin. Michael Adams scooped it up before a stunned Minnesota crowd and ran it in 4 a 30 yard TD. Cards were up 21 - 10, hung on with a couple of unbelievable red zone defensive stands and stretched their lead to 24 - 10 with 12:40 left to play. Another red zone stand kept the 24 - 10 margin with just 4:39 to play.

After that, it was all Favre, his receivers and his O-line making correct split-second decisions after split-second decisions on play after play. Favre hit Shianco at the 4 and Peterson ran it in to make the score 24 - 17 with 3:34 left to play. The Cards tried to run some time off the clock (predicable and leading to nowhere). Vikes got the ball back with 2:24 left on the clock. Favre and his receivers continued their heroics and tied the game on a 25-yard TD pass over the middle (and past the ear of Adrian Wilson - who turned the wrong way) to Shianco.

The Cards received in OT but - with Anderson looking utterly not in command - went 3 & out. Vikes rode Peterson's back into FG territory, Longwell booted a 35-yarder. End of story.

Except to say that writing about Cardinal games is like covering funerals. No fun at all.

PS Thank God the Giants took care of Seattle. The NFC West is still there for the taking (i.e. some team has to win it; why not us)?

Game Recap

1st Quarter

  • First quarter was chock full of action, but no scoring. Cards received and started from their own 21. A 7-yard gain off RT by Hightower was nullified by a holding call on Patrick. Anderson was sacked for minus-0 on the next play. Cards wound up going 3 & out. Vikes (who had terrific field position all day) got the ball back on their own 44, but (a couple of plays after Porter sacked Favre for minus-5) & on the fourth play of the series, Kerry Rhodes picked off a Favre pass at the Cardinal 31 and ran it all the way back to the end zone...well...er...almost. As he passed the Viking 3,  he had the ball stripped out by a Viking defender. Ball rolled through the end zone for a touchback.

  • Viking ball on the Cardinal 20. After a quick +28 on a completion to Harvin, Favre got sacked by Dockett for minus-8, and the Vikes had to punt. Cards got the ball back on their own 15. On the second play of the series, Anderson aimed a pass directly at Greenway who intercepted it, but a Cardinal challenge confirmed it was a trap. But the Cards eventually punted from their own 24 anyway.Minnesota couldn't get anything going and punted from their own 48. Ball was downed on the Cardinal one yard line.

  • Although a 14-yard completion to Fitz picked up a first down and bought some room, the Cards punted from their own 23 as the quarter ended. First Quarter Score: Cardinals 0 - Vikings 0.

2nd Quarter

  • Vikes started from their own 48. Completions to Berrian (+18) and Harvin (+25) set up a 12-yard completion to Peterson for a TD. Vikings 7 - Cardinals 0.

  • But LaRod Stephens-Howling (aka LSH or "The Hyphen") fielded the ensuing kickoff at the Cardinal 4 and ran it straight up the field 96 yards for a game-tying touchdown. (Whew! That was quick).  Vikings 7 - Cardinals 7.

  • Cards kicked off short, and the Vikes ran it back to their own 36. Favre mixed in a bunch of short passes and running plays to move his team to the Cardinal 4, where the Cardinal red-zone defense made its first of several stands and forced Longwell to boot a 21-yard FG.  Vikings 10 - Cardinals 7.

  • A 17-yard completion to Fitz on the next series, helped move the ball to the Cardinal 42, but that's as far as we got. We had to punt, and the Vikes took over on theri own 24 with 2:54 left til halftime. A false start penalty stalled any semblance of a drive, and the Cardinals got the ball back on their own 19 with 1:30 to go and executed the first of the 2 best Cardinal drives of the day. Anderson completed a couple of passes to Fitzgerald for (+30 and +14), picked up another +11 on a nifty scramble (where he made the defender have to decide whether to cover an open receiver or come up to tackle Derek) and capped it off with a pretty 30-yard catch & broken field run by Andre Roberts with 0:37 still left on the clock. Cards had the lead for the first time.  Cardinals 14 - Vikings 10.

  • Kickoff. One knee by Favre (amid boos by the fans). Second Half Score: Cardinals 14 - Vikings 10.

3rd Quarter

  • Vikes received the 2H kickoff and could easily retake the lead; but O Brien Schofield (making his presence felt in only his second game as a rookie) stripped the ball from Percy Harvin. Michael Adams picked up the loose ball at the 30 (while some Viking players were already walking off the field) and ran it in for a TD that sent waves of shock through the boistrous Minnesota crowd. Cards surprisingly up by 11. Cardinals 21 - Vikings 10.

  • Vikes could only move the ball from their own 22 to midfield before punting it. Cards took over on their own 18 and punted from their own 30. Camarillo returned it 21 yards. Another 5 yards tacked on gave the Vikes the ball at their own 40.  Completions to Harvin (+22). and Camarillo (+31) put the ball on the Cardinal 2-yard line, but for the second time in the game, the Cardinal defense kept the Vikes from scoring. This time it was an interception by Rashad Johnson after Favre's arm was hit.  Cards took over on their own 7 and mounted a 14-play drive that extended into the fourth quarter. Third Quarter Score: Cardinals 21 - Vikings 10.

4th Quarter

  • Cards made it to the Viking 8-yard line and then the 4, but could not punch it in there. Feely's 22 FG opened up a 14-point Cardinal lead. Cardinals 24 - Vikings 10.

  • Too much time (12:40) left to get complacent about. Starting from their own 17, the Vikings mounted a long drive of their own; reaching the Cardinal one-yard line in 16 plays (using up 6:22). But Favre threw incomplete to Dugan on 4th & Goal, and the Cards had the ball back with 6:40 left to play.

  • The bad news was that they had the ball on their own one-yard line. A sneak, a one-yard run an incompletion forced the Cards to punt away. Vikes got the ball back with a short field (at the Cardinal 40) with 4:39 left to play and the Vikes down by 2 touchdowns. Favre went to work: He hit Berrian (for +11) and Shianco (for +20 ) to set up a 4-yard Peterson TD run. Cardinals 24 - Vikings 17.

  • Cards returned the kickoff to their own 24 with 3:34 still left on the clock. (This is where good teams put away their opponents). They gained a yard and lost a yard on two running plays. The third play was classic Derek Anderson in the clutch - He hit Fitz 4-yards short of a first down. Cards punted.

  • Vikes got the ball back on their own 23, with 2:24 (& no time outs) left on the clock (all the time in the world). The play sequence was as follows: Favre to Berrian for +15. Favre sacked by Porter for minus-6. Favre to Shianco for +15 (one yard short of a 1st down). Favre scramble up middle for +1 and a first down. Penalty for minus-5. Touchdown Pass - Favre to Shiancoe for +25 with 0:27 still left to play. (The ball whizzed by the right ear of Adrian Wilson (who lately has seemed to give up more big plays than he makes & who turned the wrong way) and into the arms of the Viking TE. Cardinals 24 - Vikings 24.

  • Starting from his own 37, Anderson was sacked, threw an incompletion and was sacked again to end regulation. Score - End of Regulation: Cardinals 24 - Vikings 24.

Overtime

  • Cards won the toss and went 3 & out, with Anderson sacked for minus-6 and zero yards along the way. Cards punted from their own 21 to the Viking 31. Peterson immediately circled right end for 30-yards (through what seemed to be putrid tackling). Despite being penalized 10-yards on a holding call, Favre hit Berrian for +22 to put the ball in field goal range at the Cardinal 27. After a few more plays designed to pick up a few more yards, Longwell kicked a 35-yard FG to end the game. Final Score: Vikings 27- Cardinals 24.

"Game Stats"

  • Vikes picked up 507 net yards.

  • Favre threw for 427 net yards.

  • Vikings' offense ran off 67 plays(vs. the Cardinals' 48).

  • They gained an average of 7.2 yards per offensive play.

  • The vaunted Hightower running attack picked up 39 yards on 13 carries.

  • Peterson picked up 81 yards on 15 carries.

  • Anderson actually wound up with a 91.5 passer rating (15 for 26 and 179 yards, a TD and no interceptions.

  • Unfortunately, Derek was sacked 6 times (twice the number of sacks the Cards inflicted on Favre).

  • What isn't reflected in the stats are (a) the number of QB pressures and (b) what each QB did against those pressures. Time after time, Favre turned lemons into lemon-aide whereas Anderson - under pressure - invariably stumbled, tripped, stepped on somebody or backed into a blocker.

  • Fitz caught 7 for 10, picking up 107 yards but no touchdowns.

  • Harvin and Berrian racked up 9 catches apiece.

  • Rhodes and Johnson were each credited with a pick.

  • Graham's net punting average was 10 yards less than his 47.0 gross yards; whereas Kluew's net was virtually the same as his 47.8 gross.

  • Cards only committed 1 turnover (one fumble by Rhodes but no interceptions thrown by Anderson).

  • By contrast, they executed three take-aways (2 picks plus a fumble recovery)

  • Cards were penalized 7 times (but the Vikes were penalized 11).

  • Vikes won time of possession: 38:05 to 27:13.

  • Toler led the defense with 9 tackles. Lenin had 7. Porter 6 and four other guys had 5.

  • Sacks: Porter 2 and Dockett 1. Porter had 5 QB hurries (Dockett 3).

Bright Spots

  • Our red zone defense repelled the Vikes on several occasions to keep us in the football game.

  • Big plays by the young 'uns - the strip of the ball by Schofield and the TD saving interception by Rashad Johnson.

  • LSH has stepped up consistently enough as a returner to be considered a "star in the making" (if not already one).

  • Joey Porter had a couple of sacks and 5 QB hurries.

  • Fitz looked more comfortable than he has in quite awhile. The passing attack is at least starting to look almost competent.

The Dark Side

  • Anderson did OK when he wasn't under pressure, but continually failed to deliver in clutch situations. He didn't look in command and, when under pressure, continually would back into one of his blockers and often into a tackler.

  • What's with A-Dub? Lately he seems to be more victim than predator.

  • Late 4Q and OT tackling was atrocious

  • Late 4Q and OT play calling lacked "pop."

  • Hightower's failure to catch Anderson's pass in the flat when we were boxed in at our goal line probably cost us the game. (Not to point fingers at THT - plenty of other miscues - like Kerry losing the ball after his interception - also represented single things that cost us the game.

  • Our CB's had big league trouble staying with Harvin and Berrian - could we have jammed them better to disrupt their timing?

Last Word:
The Cards are beginning to represent the platoon in the movie, Presidio, that was supposed to always lose battles in war games. The Cardinals seem to set themselves up perfectly to be foils for other teams to look terrific against - the "other team" that East Dillon comes back to win on the last play of the game. We were "the other guys" when Britt caught the TD pass in last year's Titan game. We were "the other guys" a week ago when we made Josh Freeman and TB look good late in the game. And here we are again - "the other guys" who Minnesota and Favre pulled late-game heroics out their butts against.

I don't want us to be "the other team" any more. It sucks. It's up to the Cardinal players to say "enough is enough" and make it stop.

Bottom line of this game is that Anderson played sufficiently well enough for the rest of the team to win more than its share of "normal" football games. Unfortunately we ran into a white-hot Brett Favre in the final minutes, and the Vikes made more big plays at the end than we did (if we made any big plays at all).

But it can also be said that a realistic take on this Cardinal team is that "Anderson hasn't shown he's good enough to pull out games at crunch time." It all boils down to: If everyone continues to hang in there, this Cardinal team under Anderson's quarterbacking is good enough to make the playoffs. But if we need last-minute heroics to pull out close games (as we'll need to do at least once or twice in any set of playoff games), I'm not so sure DA can do it.
 
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