Defensive tackle Darnell Dockett waves goodbye to the CenturyLink Field crowd at the end of the Cardinals' 17-10 win in Seattle Sunday.
SEATTLE – The playoffs remain a distant hope, kneecapped by an amazing comeback earlier in the day by the Carolina Panthers and resting on outcomes of games of which the Cardinals will not take part.
None of that meant anything Sunday afternoon in the Seattle mist fogging CenturyLink Field, after the Cardinals notched an improbable 10th win of the season by rallying past the Seahawks, 17-10. In a game that which coach Bruce Arians called a barometer of the franchise, Arizona found it measures up quite well.
"I don't think we realize how satisfying this is yet," guard Daryn Colledge said. "Everyone knew it was going to be a fistfight. To stay together, to keep fighting and believe in each other, that's what makes it special."
Quarterback Carson Palmer threw four interceptions, a recipe for disaster almost any game and certainly where the Seahawks
hadn't lost since 2011. But Palmer also calmly delivered a game-winning touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter, including a beautiful 31-yard touchdown pass to Michael Floyd, and handed it to a defense that was sublime in its performance.
It ended when linebacker Karlos Dansby hauled in a deflected pass off the arm of wide receiver Doug Baldwin, ending a miserable day for Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and allowing the Cardinals (10-5) to keep alive their postseason scenarios.
"That one," Arians said, "defies the odds."
Carolina (11-4) got away from the Cardinals before the game even started – the Cards to a man said they didn't know that as they kicked off their own game – when Cam Newton threw a game-winning touchdown pass with under a minute to play to beat the Saints (10-5).
With the 49ers (10-4) playing Monday night, the Cardinals are left with simple playoff chances, if longshots. They need to beat the 49ers next week. If the 49ers somehow lose a home game to a struggling Atlanta team Monday, the winner of the San Francisco-Arizona game at University of Phoenix Stadium next week goes on.
If the 49ers win against the Falcons, the only hope the Cards have left is to win next week and have the Saints somehow lose at home to a bad Tampa Bay team. It isn't a promising combination.
The Cards can't do anything about it though.
"If you get caught up in all that, that's how you lose," defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said.
The Cardinals instead have a chance to win 11 for the first time since the team moved to Arizona in 1988, playoffs or not. That's what Arians wants, why he delivered an emotional speech to the team Friday about making sure when they went to Seattle, they didn't get pushed around.
That was not a problem.
Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch gained 46 yards on his first six carries but had just 25 on his final 12 attempts. Wilson (11-for-27, 108 yards, one touchdown, one interception) never found a rhythm and if it wasn't for one 27-yard scramble early in the second half that turned out to be meaningless, never was able to scramble his way into big plays.
In one of the biggest points in the game, a Palmer interception late in the first half was returned to the Arizona 3-yard line – and not only did the defense hold, but Seahawks kicker Steven Hauschka missed a 24-yard field goal that made for a surprising 3-3 halftime tie.
"When they realized they had to start throwing the ball, for us to step in there and get pressure and some three-and-outs, they got frustrated," defensive end Calais Campbell said. "It showed we came to play and I think it gave our offense motivation.
"We didn't change much (at the half). Once you figure out what they are trying to do, you call plays to try and beat it. I take my hat off to (defensive coordinator Todd) Bowles. We called the same plays. We just called it smart."
The Seahawks (12-3), who not only failed to clinch home field throughout the playoffs but also has yet to clinch the NFC West title, converted just 2-of-13 third-downs and gained a mere 192 yards of total offense.
The Seahawks' defense was effective as well, mostly in short-circuiting potential Cardinal scoring threats. There were miscommunications, pressures and reasons for the picks, Palmer said, but he shrugged them off. And when it mattered, Palmer made it happen.
Nursing a 9-3 lead, the valiant defense cracked, allowing Wilson to drive for a go-ahead touchdown. Palmer, with little emotion, then directed the Cards on a 10-play, 80-yard scoring march, capped on the bomb to Floyd. Running back Rashard Mendenhall ran right up the middle for a two-point conversion.
"You have to deal with the ebbs and the flows," Palmer said of his performance, which ended 13-for-25 for 178 yards, the TD and the four picks. "You have to think about the next play. You can't think about what happened in the first quarter, the second quarter, the last third down. You have to stay mentally strong. You have to block all that other stuff out."
The Seahawks weren't going to burn the Cardinals' defense twice in a row, and whatever last-ditch effort they had in them ended with the Dansby pick. It was a fitting conclusion.
"I just ran to the ball," Dansby said. "And magic happened."
It also drew smiles, ridding the Cardinals of the memories of their last trip to Seattle – a 58-0 disaster – and also the 34-22 loss earlier in the season in Arizona on Thursday night. Wilson had never lost in Seattle and the Seahawk were considered by some unbeatable at home. The Cardinals were intent on proving otherwise.
"There is a lot of belief," Arians said. "When we played them (in October) we had two walkthroughs for practice and had to play on Thursday night. We weren't ready for that. We weren't ready for that style of practice. We weren't good enough yet."
"This is why you play the game," Arians added. "To come into a venue like this … that's why you play the game. That's why we all grew up playing this game."