Quarterback Carson Palmer throws a pass during the Cardinals' 25-13 loss against the Steelers Sunday in Pittsburgh.
PITTSBURGH – Often, when Bruce Arians has reviewed one of the Cardinals' blowouts this season, he talks about what his team did not do. Perfection may not be achieved, but it must be the goal.
The Cardinals have found out that harsh reality.
In a game that in many ways mirrored their one previous loss, the Cards didn't score in the red zone Sunday, they turned the ball over too much and they failed to make late stops – any, in fact, against third-string quarterback Landry Jones. The result was a 25-13 loss to the Steelers at Heinz Field, a disappointing end to their eight-day trip away from Arizona.
"They played four quarters," linebacker Kevin Minter said, "and we didn't."
As against the Rams, it's not like the Cardinals (4-2) didn't have some success. But there seemed to be a
caveat in every case.
Wide receiver John Brown had a career-game with 10 catches for 196 yards, but it was his fumble after a catch that set up the Steelers' first touchdown and first lead of the game. Quarterback Carson Palmer completed 29-of-45 passes for 421 yards, but his end zone interception with a little more than two minutes left underscored the team's difficulty to reach paydirt.
The defense, meanwhile, struggled once quarterback Mike Vick left the game with a hamstring injury, and when it had a chance to get a stop and deliver a final chance for the offense, allowed a Martavis Bryant 88-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown.
"I felt like we had what it takes to win two in a row on the road," coach Bruce Arians said, saying again the
team's work in West Virginia prepared them for the Steelers.
They definitely looked thrown off by the Vick-for-Jones swap. Jones not only completed 8-of-12 passes for 168 yards and two touchdowns (Vick threw for a measly six yards into the second half) but the sudden threat of the pass helped running back Le'Veon Bell get loose.
Bell ran for 88 yards on 24 carries, and the Steelers (4-2) didn't punt in the second half.
"It seemed like (Jones) had more control of their offense," cornerback Patrick Peterson said. "It definitely changed the element of the game."
It might not have made a difference had the offense simply capitalized more often. They scored a Michael Floyd touchdown on their second possession, but after that, it dried up. Floyd had one touchdown wiped out when he was called for pass interference, lost another on a third-down pass breakup by cornerback Ross Cockrell that seemed to come after Cockrell got away with a hold, and lost yet another on a beautiful Palmer pass in which Floyd just couldn't get his second foot down inbounds.
"I thought I was in for sure," Floyd said.
The running game never got going either – there were not as many runs called either – gaining just 55 yards on 20 attempts. Still, "we moved the ball enough that I thought we'd finally score," said wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who had eight catches for 93 yards. "It never happened."
It looked like it might. For all the problems, the Cardinals were driving, down 21-15, as the two-minute warning drew close. On first-and-10 from the Pittsburgh 20, Palmer faded to pass, looking for Brown in the end zone. Safety Mike Mitchell came from the weak side for the interception.
"I thought I had the safety sucked up and I never saw him," Palmer said. "It can't happen. I'm very frustrated with myself."
The Cardinals were a minus-three on the day in turnovers.
"That was not a good play," Arians said.
Neither were the 111 yards on nine penalties that too often set the Cardinals back in the first half when they threatened to create some space between themselves and the Steelers.
Now the team goes home for the first time since before the Lions game. They have an extra day to prep, given the upcoming Monday night game against Baltimore. The overall frustration – and it was apparent in the locker room, especially defensively – was reflective of the same attitude that came after the Rams' loss.
"We definitely feel we beat ourselves," Peterson said.
The players see simple corrections – Fitzgerald noted the 1-for-4 in the red zone – and now that they're finally going home, they'll look to make those in Tempe this week.
"Being here and having a chance to go down and win the game and not doing it is very frustrating," Palmer said. "You just can't let it fester."
Images from the Cardinals Week 6 road game against the Pittsburgh Steelers