Wide receiver Early Doucet gets upfield during Sunday's 21-14 loss to the Vikings Sunday.
MINNEAPOLIS – All Sunday afternoon, it felt like the Minnesota Vikings were doing their best to play cordial host to the visiting Cardinals, down to the chance for the Cards to walk into Mall of America Field and take away a win.
All afternoon, the Cardinals rebuffed that opportunity.
It was a sour feeling the Cards were left with after a 21-14 loss to the Vikings, a third straight defeat.
"it's rough when you are moving the ball and just shoot yourself in the foot," said running back LaRod Stephens-Howling, unable to celebrate in what was a career-best personal day. "We have to capitalize. We have to get that right."
Somehow, the Cardinals (4-3) gave up just 58 second-half yards to the Vikings (5-2), while Stephens-Howling had 104 yards rushing on 20 carries. But the Cards just can't score enough points, and such hiccups were painful to endure.
"We've got to quit making mistakes," coach Ken Whisenhunt said.
Three times the Cardinals started a possession on the Minnesota side of the 50 in the first half, unable to come away with points. The last time was seemingly a gift given the offensive problems, an ill-advised under-pressure pass from Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder that was intercepted on a dive by linebacker Sam Acho with just five seconds left in the second quarter.
Minnesota should have just been running out the clock with a 14-7 lead. Instead, kicker Jay Feely had a chance at a 47-yard field goal to slice the lead, and the Cards were going to have the ball to start the second half.
Feely pushed it just a bit right.
"We can't not get something in their territory," Whisenhunt said.
Perhaps that would have been forgotten if the Cards had used the first second-half possession to tie the game. But under pressure, quarterback John Skelton made a poor choice to throw on the run into double-coverage, and safety Harrison Smith not only made the interception but returned it 31 yards for a touchdown.
It was all the points the Vikings would need. Whatever offense the Cards generated after that – save for a late touchdown drive after the Cardinals had used up their margin for error – stalled.
"Our defense all year has been lights out," Skelton said. "When they need a stop they get it. They've given us great field position from time to time and we've squandered it."
The best chance came right after the interception, but down 14 and with some momentum, Whisenhunt decided to go for it on fourth-and-2 at the Minnesota 18. His reasoning was it would still be a two-score game on an afternoon in which the Cardinals weren't scoring.
The Vikings weren't fooled by Skelton's play-action bootleg with a run/pass option. The receivers were covered, and Skelton's sprint to the first-down marker came up well short, another frustrating end to a drive.
"Not that statistics mean anything," Whisenhunt said, "but we moved the ball."
The Cardinals ended up with 356 yards of offense. Skelton was 25-of-36 for 262 yards, with a late touchdown to Andre Roberts. But he was sacked seven times, and the downfield game was shut down as the Vikings kept two safeties deep most of the day.
That opened up things for Stephens-Howling, although he wasn't the most impressive back of the day. With the Cards locking up Ponder – who became the second quarterback to be held to less than 10 completions in a game by Arizona – running back Adrian Peterson broke out for 153 yards.
"Twenty-eight," linebacker Daryl Washington said of Peterson, "is a workhorse."
Peterson alone shouldn't have been enough. Whisenhunt lamented the missed chances again, noting, for instance, that if Feely's field goal had been good at the end of the half, the Cards could have overcome Skelton's pick-6 by kicking a second field goal instead of going for it and then going for two on their final touchdown.
Those are a lot of dots to connect, but it was a feeling the Cards couldn't shake in the locker room afterward. It also left them trying to figure out the next step to get away from the frustration.
"We've got to find a way," Washington said. "You lose one, and it's, 'We've got to get better.' You lose two and it's, 'Now we really have to work hard.' Now you lose three (straight) and it's, 'Wow, how do you overcome this?'
"We have to find a way to dig out of this."