The Cardinals still can’t beat the Seahawks in Arizona. They still haven’t managed a winning record since 2015. Their short-term outlook has been further dimmed by three more season-ending injuries.
Snap. Crack. Pop.
That’s the sound of ligaments tearing, an ankle breaking and a balloon bursting inside University of Phoenix Stadium.
The Cardinals still can’t beat the Seahawks in Arizona. They still haven’t managed a winning record since 2015. Their short-term outlook has been further dimmed by three more season-ending injuries. And after a 22-16 loss on “Thursday Night Football,” they still can’t stop Russell Wilson from uncorking that one special play that breaks open a game and the hearts of their fan base.
“Our guys fought their asses off,” Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians said. “You couldn’t ask for any more effort.”
Sorry, not good enough. This was more than a pivotal game for Arizona, a chance to finally score a signature win in 2017. This was a shot at redemption, a chance to end one of the more nauseating losing streaks in Valley sports.
The Cardinals haven’t beaten Seattle in Glendale since the 2012 season. Arians’ vaunted offense had scored just six points in each of the previous three contests. Two of those games were humiliating blowouts. One of them featured an obscene gesture from Marshawn Lynch as he dove backwards into the end zone. And the one game the Cardinals didn’t lose might’ve been the most agitating performance of all, a 6-6 tie in 2016.
But Arizona’s offense sputtered once again. Adrian Peterson fumbled away his first carry, ruining the field position and early momentum that came with a rare Arians’ decision, who chose to defer after winning the coin toss. And the Cardinals receivers simply refused to make a play for backup quarterback Drew Stanton, who deserved better.
“We dropped way too many balls,” Arians said.
As Stanton walked out of the locker room, defensive lineman Frostee Rucker called out to him, telling the quarterback that he had played a great game. It was a telling moment, but you can bet none of the defensive players felt that way about the other skill players.
J.J. Nelson dropped two footballs, including a sure touchdown pass. He also tackled himself looking for a soft landing after a rare reception. Andre Ellington fumbled away a completion, rescued only when it was ruled an incomplete pass. The skittishness of both players is a big reason why the Cardinals are one of the softest teams in the NFL.
Maybe the ferocious nature of the Seahawks’ secondary made a difference. They are a team that tackles with malice and plays with great collective spirit. And maybe that’s why the Cardinals have struggled with this team so often at home, where the Seahawks and their fans are far too comfortable.
To his credit, Stanton refused to blame any of his intended targets.
“You’ll never hear me say that,” he said. “This is a team sport. Everybody is out there fighting. And you’ll never hear me make an excuse for that. I need to play better. That’s plain and simple.”
Nevertheless, this loss will leave a mark. It confirms the suspicious nature of the Cardinals’ 4-5 record, a team that has beaten only bottom feeders, including two games that required overtime. It’s another lost opportunity because the current Seahawks aren’t that good. They were without Earl Thomas, one of their best players. Their offensive line is still atrocious, and the ever-sturdy Wilson was actually knocked out of the game at one point.
For the second consecutive season in Glendale, the Cardinals defense played well enough to win, only to be sabotaged by special teams, bad offense and one highlight-reel play from Wilson.
“That’s just what makes him special,” Rucker said. “You can’t take anything away from him on that play and what he did. That’s what Russell does and that’s why he’s one of the best in the game, and we’ve got to make a play on him. We tried our best and that was the result.”
So continues a maddening season, where the Cardinals follow every loss with a victory, and every victory with a loss. Same with Peterson, who has followed each great performance with something less than stellar. And it will be very tough for this team to overcome the loss of offensive lineman D.J. Humphries and defensive back Tyvon Branch, both of whom left the game with knee injuries; and tight end Ifeanyi Momah, who broke an ankle.
This is another indictment of “Thursday Night Football,” where a violent sport requires its players to perform without proper recuperation. Later in the game, Seahawks star Richard Sherman limped off the field and never returned, tearing his Achilles’ tendon. And while injuries are up in 2017 and players go down every week in the NFL, there is no question a lack of healing time puts NFL athletes at greater risk when asked to play on Thursday nights.
“Exhibit A, Exhibit B, Exhibit C, Exhibit D, Exhibit Z … Thursday Night Football should be illegal,” Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin said.
Agreed, but that’s not going to help the Cardinals in 2017. So where does this team go from here?
“Win next week,” Arians said. “Come to work tomorrow and win next week. There is no other option.”
Alas, the road to redemption doesn’t always wind through Glendale. Dennis Green never recovered from an epic Monday Night meltdown against the Bears. Derek Anderson never won another game in Arizona after berating a reporter in a postgame rant.
But in some ways, the Cardinals are lucky. They get to play the Seahawks every season. And one of these years, they’ll finally get it right. And maybe they’ll even close the doors to Seattle’s home away from home.