Monday, 16 November 2015

Cardinals scorch Seahawks, tighten grip on NFC West

All week, Seattle Seahawks players insisted Sunday night was just another game.

In Arizona, the Cardinals were treating it as anything but.

“We addressed this game as we wanted to show the nation that we’re for real this year,” cornerbackPatrick Peterson said after the Cardinals’ 39-32 triumph. “We thought this was an opportunity for us to come in here and show the world that we are a contender, not a pretender.”

Rallying past the two-time defending NFC champions in prime time might have a little more shine if the Seahawks hadn’t already let four other fourth-quarter leads slip away this season.

But there’s an emotional aspect to sending fans to the exits with two minutes to go at CenturyLink Field, where the Seahawks have been so formidable. And the tangible impact can’t be denied.

Up three games with seven to go, the NFC West is the Cardinals’ to lose.

“Once we beat Cleveland and going into the bye, everything was about ‘take control of the division,’” defensive lineman Calais Campbell said. “It feels really good to do that.”

The Cardinals did it Sunday despite blowing an early 19-0 lead and falling behind early in the fourth quarter, thanks to a pair of strip-sacks on quarterback Carson Palmer as the Seahawks’ pass rush exploited and exacerbated issues with the protection.

“After some disastrous drives, basically giving them 14 points,” coach Bruce Arians said, “to come right back speaks volumes about the character we have in that locker room.”

They did it despite watching left guard Mike Iupati taken off the field in an ambulance with a neck injury that sent him to a local hospital for testing. (An MRI and CT scan came back normal, the team said, and Iupati flew home with the team.)

They did it despite having two of their top receivers, Michael Floyd and John Brown, hobbled by hamstring injuries, leaving little-used Jaron Brown to make a pivotal play: a 10-yard catch on a ball batted into the air by Seahawks star Richard Sherman, extending Arizona’s go-ahead drive.

“All year, we’ve kind of been the team that’s going to blow a team out, or if it’s close, we lose it,” running back Chris Johnson said. “Championship teams – you’ve got to win those type of games when it’s close in the fourth quarter and we got the ball.”

The Cardinals led this division at this stage last season, too. But they lost Palmer in their ninth game – the most damaging blow in a series of them that left Arizona limping into the playoffs with a fourth-string quarterback and backups all over.

The Cardinals were outscored 54-9 in two losses to the Seahawks last season with Drew Stanton and Ryan Lindley at quarterback. On Sunday, Palmer was 29-of-48 for 363 yards with three touchdowns (and one pick early) before Andre Ellington’s 48-yard TD run all but iced it with 1:58 to go.

“I’ve always said I wanted to come back with Carson,” Arians said. “I don’t mind coming here with Carson any day of the week.”

The Arizona defense did its part, too, repeatedly forcing the Seahawks into passing situations on second- and third-and-long. Marshawn Lynch got just eight carries for 42 yards, and Russell Wilson was 14-of-32 passing with a touchdown and a poorly thrown interception to Tyrann Mathieu. The Cardinals ran 84 plays to Seattle’s 52 and had the ball for nearly 39 minutes.

Set aside that awful stretch early in the fourth quarter, and this was a relatively dominant effort on the road against the team that has owned the division and the conference the past two seasons.

“What’s our reward?” receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. “Another game on Sunday Night Football next week against undefeated Cincinnati.”

Another opportunity to show what these Cardinals are about – not that anyone’s opinion changes the fact they’re set up well to finish off one title and keep working toward another.

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