Cardinals wide receiver Anquan Boldin loses a fumble Sunday during Arizona's 35-14 loss to the Vikings at University of Phoenix Stadium.
Desperation makes for a special motivator.
The Cardinals found that out Sunday.
A week after clinching the NFC West crown, the Cards apparently couldn't convince themselves that securing the NFC's third seed in the playoff was enough to spark them – while the Vikings not only were playing for the third seed, but trying to simply hold off Chicago for the NFC North lead.
Translation on the scoreboard: Vikings 35, Cardinals 14. In falling behind 28-0 at halftime, the Cardinals had their worst showing at University of Phoenix Stadium since coach Ken Whisenhunt arrived.
"We have to come out like our backs are against the wall," linebacker Karlos Dansby said. "That's how you have to approach the game. We didn't approach this game like that – that we had something to win, that we had something to reach for. It showed on the field."
Defensive tackle Darnell Dockett was blunt. "We do this in the playoffs," Dockett
said, "there ain't no coming back."
The playoffs will still begin in Glendale for the Cards (8-6), against the top wild-card qualifier barring something unforeseen. The Vikings (9-5) now have the NFC's third seed all but locked up. With the win, they essentially have a two-game lead on the Cardinals with two games to play. The Cards would have to win both games and Minnesota lose twice for the Cards to avoid the NFC's fourth seed.
The Cardinals will have to improve in all facets to have a chance of that happening, however.
The game got away from Arizona in the first quarter, simply and viciously. Anquan Boldin dropped a wide-open pass on third-and-7 on the Cardinals' first possession, and on the ensuing punt, Bernard Berrian brought it back 82 yards for a touchdown when the Cards pinned Berrian on the sideline but never got him out.
Kurt Warner threw an interception on the next possession, leading to Berrian hauling in a 41-yard touchdown reception from Tarvaris Jackson on a third-and-15 play. Then Boldin fumbled away the ball on the Cards' next chance, leading to the second of four Jackson touchdown passes.
From there, the Vikings pounded the Cards with running back Adrian Peterson on offense (165 yards on 28 carries) and with their pass rush on defense (four sacks and plenty of pressure on Warner).
"There's not much positive about that game," Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said.
The Cardinals did shave the score to 28-14 in the second half, getting a 50-yard catch-and-run touchdown from Warner to Jerheme Urban and Rod Hood's 68-yard touchdown return of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie's blocked field goal attempt.
Mostly though, the Cards' offense never could consistently produce. Echoing the last time the Cardinals played Minnesota back in 2006, when they tied an NFL record for fewest rushing attempts in a game with six, the Cards ended up with only seven rushing attempts (for 43 yards) Sunday.
Warner was 29-of-45 for 270 yards and kept his touchdown-pass streak alive, but the stats felt hollow given the result.
"We have to be hitting on all cylinders to be successful," Warner said. "The fact we haven't run the ball well, you become one-dimensional. I don't know if anyone has necessarily caught up with us, but we haven't played perfect."
The Cards' defense couldn't consistently stop Peterson or the Vikings either. Minnesota finished with 239 yards rushing – the most the Cards have allowed in a game since moving into University of Phoenix Stadium.
"We knew coming in -- it was not rocket science and every one of you all (media) knew coming in -- that running back (Peterson) was going to get the ball at least 25 times," Dockett said. "We knew that and we didn't stop them."
Peterson complemented his offensive line, joking that the Vikings "could have put Fievel" – a cartoon movie mouse – "back there and he would have been able to pick up yards."
Whisenhunt acknowledged that, in his view, "we didn't come out ready to play," a disappointing turn so late in the season. The Cardinals have a crucial game in New England next week, mostly for a psyche that is dangerously on the ropes.
Warner said he didn't care what the Cardinals' final record was – there is still a chance to finish 8-8 if the Cards can't beat the Patriots or the Seahawks – as long as the Cardinals are playing better.
"I know one thing," Dockett said. "We better get our (stuff) together."
Contact Darren Urban at firstname.lastname@example.org. Posted 12/14/08.
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