Cardinals safety D.J. Swearinger celebrates the extra-point miss of Seahawks kicker Steven Hauschka at the end of the Cards' 34-31 win in Seattle.
SEATTLE -- ‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through CenturyLink Field, not a creature was stirring – not after the Cardinals shut everyone up.
Undermanned on the offensive line, scrambling in the secondary to the point where rookie cornerback Harlan Miller played safety for the first time ever, and with kicker Chandler Catanzaro facing down his own Seahawks nightmares, the Cardinals gave themselves the best Christmas present of all – a 34-31 win over the Seahawks.
The Seahawks (9-5-1) still are the NFC West champions. The Cardinals (6-8-1) still only have one game left to play before the season ends. But the win felt just as good as the one the Cardinals had in 2015 here in the Pacific Northwest.
“It’s been a tough year,” right tackle Earl Watford said. “But it’s about not quitting. We had every excuse to quit. That’s not what we are about.”
Quarterback Carson Palmer, in a tie game with one minute left at his own 25, directed the Cardinals down the field. Running back David Johnson grabbed passes of 13 and then 29 yards, and then Larry Fitzgerald had the last eight-yard reception to set up Catanzaro.
Catanzaro, who infamously missed a short field goal in overtime that would have beat the Seahawks in the 6-6 tie at University of Phoenix Stadium, drilled the 43-yarder to end the game.
“Like I always say, it was just the period on the end of the sentence,” Catanzaro said, praising Palmer and the offense.
Just a period?
“We can call it an exclamation point,” Catanzaro said with a smile.
Palmer, who completed 16-of-28 passes for 284 yards and a 80-yard touchdown strike to wide receiver J.J. Nelson, is now 3-0 in Seattle as a starting quarterback for the Cardinals.
“It was just one of those weeks we felt we were going to win,” Palmer said. “To be 3-0 at this stadium, I take great pride in that. It’s very difficult to do. That was the motivation all week, for me at least.”
The Cardinals needed their quarterback. They needed Johnson, who surpassed 100 yards from scrimmage (95 rushing, 41 receiving) for a 15th straight game and whose three touchdowns set a franchise record with 20 in a season.
But coach Bruce Arians quickly mentioned those who played well despite inexperience and pressure. Like Miller –
who played the whole way after Tony Jefferson sprained his MCL on his first play of the game-- and rookie cornerback Brandon Williams, the latter of which showed growing pains but held up. Like cornerback Justin Bethel, recently criticized by Arians for his defensive play, making multiple pass breakups.
Like the offensive line, which was already deep into the backups and then lost backup-to-the-backup right guard Taylor Boggs to a shoulder injury. In came rookie center Evan Boehm, who played guard the rest of the way.
“It’s a tribute to (General Manager) Steve Keim and the roster he’s built,” Arians said.
None of the newbies were perfect – “That was a baptism by fire,” Boehm said – but they did enough. Yes, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson had 350 yards passing and four touchdowns, and Doug Baldwin had career-highs in catches (13) and yards (171). But the Cards made it work defensively, especially in the first half, when the front seven was harassing Wilson with five of their six sacks on the day.
“We knew up front we were going to have to do more,” defensive tackle Calais Campbell said.
Special teams was also excellent, besides Catanzaro’s game-winner – which was done with a running clock, the execution run to perfection. Defensive lineman Rodney Gunter had a blocked field goal, linebacker Alex Okafor deflected a punt into an 8-yard kick.
The Cardinals also twice kept the Seahawks out of the end zone late in the first half after first-and-goal situations, allowing just three points total. That would have made a big difference at the end.
“They are big rivals,” Johnson said. “It’s always a dogfight.”
The Cardinals are down to one game, a New Year’s Day matchup in Los Angeles against the Rams. That’s another team the Cards feel they owe after an early-season loss.
They’ll need the depth of the roster to make it work one more time.
“Everybody,” Arians said, “put their hand in the pile.”
Images from the Christmas Eve game in Seattle