Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer is corralled by Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen.
MINNEAPOLIS – Before game circumstances made the Cardinals as easy to read as a children's book, the offensive line held up quite well.
In the first half of Sunday's 30-24 loss to the Vikings, running back David Johnson was finding plenty of room to run and quarterback Carson Palmer had a comfortable pocket.
But Minnesota eventually pulled ahead, and two attempts at a game-winning drive were halted by constant harassment of Palmer. Cardinals left tackle John Wetzel made his first road start while Taylor Boggs, who wasn't on the team a couple weeks ago, was used at both left and right guard at times.
"That's about as tough as it can get," coach Bruce Arians said. "You've got basically your fourth or fifth guard in there, and he's fighting his (expletive) off. We can't hear and he's on the road in a two-minute drill. So, yeah, that's about as tough as you can get."
David Johnson had 22 carries for 103 yards and a touchdown and the Cardinals amassed 135 yards on the ground. The second quarter, especially, was impressive to watch as the Cardinals exerted their will against an elite defense.
"We ran almost the whole drive one time," said Wetzel of a second quarter series which ended in a field goal. "Momentum was going."
But as the clock worked against them down the stretch, the Cardinals had to go almost exclusively to the air, where an immobile quarterback and a leaky line was a bad combination.
"It's easier if we keep close so we can still run the ball," Wetzel said. "It's tough when they know you're passing like that. We've just got to step up and answer the challenge, just play a little bit better in situations like that."
NO FAIR CATCH HURTS CARDINALS
The Cardinals figured to have good field position to begin their final drive, but wideout John Brown let a catchable ball bounce, and it rolled at the way back to the Arizona 13 for a 72-yard field position swing.
Cornerback Patrick Peterson normally would have returned that punt, but he asked Arians to be used as a gunner to give Brown room to run. Brown had returned the previous punt 32 yards and the Cardinals hoped he could do it again.
"We felt like if those gunners didn't have an opportunity to get in John's face, he'd have a pretty good shot of breaking one open," Peterson said.
Brown signaled for a fair catch, but instead of sliding under the ball as it dropped, he moved away and allowed it to roll.
"It was just a stupid play by me not going for the ball," Brown said.
PENALTIES HURT CARDINALS ON VIKINGS' FINAL FIELD GOAL DRIVE
A pair of questionable penalty calls on the Cardinals helped lead to a Vikings field goal in the third quarter. Peterson was first called for unnecessary roughness for pushing down Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford, who had lined up as a wide receiver during a Wildcat formation.
"I thought that was a bit bizarre, because he was outside the pocket so I thought he was an eligible receiver," Peterson said. "I did what my coaches wanted me to do, take him out of the ballgame. I told Sam that definitely wasn't personal. … I thought I was making a smart play for our defense to take the quarterback out of the play, but evidently it was a penalty on me."
Peterson said the officials' explanation was that Bradford was viewed as a defenseless receiver on the play.
Later, safety Tony Jefferson was called for unnecessary roughness when he popped wide receiver Stefon Diggs near the sideline. Diggs was wrapped up by Peterson but trying to wriggle free, and the officials deemed Jefferson's hit too malicious. Arians declined comment on the officiating.
The Vikings also had reason to gripe. They had to challenge two calls in the first half to put touchdowns on the board that were called incorrectly on the field.
DENNIS GREEN HONORED BEFORE THE GAME
The Cardinals and Vikings honored the late Dennis Green in a pre-game presentation. There was a video celebration of his life and Green's family was presented a game ball by Cardinals team president Michael Bidwill and Vikings owner/president Mark Wilf.
Green coached the Vikings from 1992 to 2001 and the Cardinals from 2004 to 2006. He died in July from complications of cardiac arrest.