Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald scores on his 43-yard touchdown Sunday during the Cardinals' 24-21 loss to the Eagles.
PHILADELPHIA – Every game was a playoff game, but the playoff dream did not die here for the Cardinals Sunday afternoon.
Instead, the 24-21 loss to the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field turned out to be a test for the Cards in many ways, from playing without injured running back Andre Ellington to rallying from a slow start to playing in a difficult road environment to managing feelings after a handful of controversial penalties at the end of the game.
Sure, making the postseason would have been helped had the Cardinals not had their four-game winning streak snapped, but while the mantra had been that every game was a playoff game, the season has not ended.
"It's a minor setback," wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. "We control our own destiny. We would have loved to have this game. But it's not the end of the world for us."
Falling into a 24-7 hole, turning the ball over way too much (three) compared to the Eagles (none), the Cardinals (7-5) probably didn't
have a right to be as close as they were by the end. But there they were, down only three with a little less than five minutes left, and a near-sack by linebacker John Abraham led to a terrible decision to try and throw by Eagles quarterback Nick Foles deep in Philadelphia territory.
Patrick Peterson made the game-changing interception. Then he lost it, wiped out by a defensive holding call on safety Tyrann Mathieu.
"It was a tough call," Mathieu said. "I didn't think I held him. I thought I was being a defensive back, trying to get a good jam on him."
The Cardinals still held and forced a punt. But on the ensuing drive, going for it on fourth-and-5, a pass to Michael Floyd was broken up by cornerback Bradley Fletcher. Floyd and the sideline screamed for a flag. One was not coming.
"I thought so but unfortunately they didn't make the call," Floyd said. "You just have to live with it. There were plays we left out there, mistakes we have to get corrected."
That was essentially the end, although by the time the Cardinals reached the locker room, they found blame easier to accept themselves.
"We lost this football game with self-inflicted wounds," coach Bruce Arians said, noting the lost turnover battle that severely hampered the Cards throughout. "We hung in there. I'll say this: The refereeing did not determine us losing the football game. We didn't make enough plays."
It looked like it was going to be harder without Ellington, who had to sit with a knee injury and who never really was a serious consideration to play, Arians said. But Ellington's absence didn't really explain the protection breakdowns that kept Palmer under pressure, or the underthrown deep passes that turned into both of Palmer's interceptions.
Add in the strip-sack of Palmer by Trent Cole on the game's third play – leading to the Eagles' first touchdown – and the numbers say it should have been more of a disaster.
"We just kept saying, 'Weather the storm,' " Palmer said.
Rashard Mendenhall looked good again at running back (18 carries, 76 yards) and Palmer found his groove at times, finishing 24-of-41 for 302 yards and three touchdowns. Scoring throws to Floyd (five catches, 99 yards) and tight end Jim Dray helped put the Cards in position to have their last chance.
Again, it was a second half rally, as the defense began to harass Foles.
"It's good knowing you have the ability to do it, but you get tired of doing it," guard Daryn Colledge said.
The defense had trouble with Foles, who has now thrown 233 passes without an interception this season, and had three touchdown passes himself – all to tight ends, the Achilles heel of the Cards' defense – even though he was sacked five times.
A sixth sack was wiped out at the end of the game by a surprising defensive holding call by pass rusher Matt Shaughnessy, on a play that killed whatever miracle hopes the Cardinals might have had.
The Cardinals had more first downs and more yards than the vaunted offense of the Eagles (7-5). The missed chances, especially on deep passes early with receivers that either were open or couldn't hold on, is what will resonate when the Cardinals watch the video.
And that secondary look comes quickly.
"We'll have it on our iPads by the time we leave the ground," Colledge said prior to the team's five-hour flight back to Phoenix.
Colledge noted the tough schedule upcoming. The Rams visit next week, and then come road trips to Tennessee and Seattle before closing at home against San Francisco. The playoff dream is not dead. But it is not easy to make reality either.
"We're still in it," Arians said. "We control our own destiny. We learned a lot of lessons today about playoff atmosphere is on the road, how to overcome it, how to handle it, when good things happen, when bad things happen."