The game was lost before the field goal went through the uprights on the final play Sunday, before the oft-derailed Oakland Raiders were able to celebrate only their second victory of the season.
Yet it was all the other things the Cardinals did at State Farm Stadium that undercut their chance in a painful 23-21 loss.
It was the 32-yard completion cornerback Bené Benwikere allowed to Raiders wide receiver Marcell Ateman on the final drive. It was the unnecessary roughness penalty by tight end Jermaine Gresham on the Cardinals’ final possession, costing the team yards and valuable clock, and then the hold by fellow tight end Ricky Seals-Jones on the next play to negate a David Johnson touchdown run.
It was the dropped interception by linebacker Josh Bynes on the Raiders’ penultimate possession, which would have sealed a win. It was an offense that lie dormant for the middle two quarters and all but one possession of the fourth.
It was all of those things that led coach Steve Wilks lament that the Cardinals “didn’t play smart football” and “beat ourselves,” against a team many thought they would beat – including the Cardinals themselves. To lose on a last-second field goal hurt, but the way it happened was too familiar.
“We’ve been losing all year so far,” Benwikere said. “We just have to keep fighting.”
Wilks was left answering questions about his future – “I’m just worried about trying to win a football game,” he said – and insisting the Cardinals had to focus now on preparing for the Chargers next weekend in Los Angeles.
“Either you quit or you don’t quit,” rookie quarterback Josh Rosen said, “And I promise you we won’t.”
The Cardinals got a fantastic performance from Johnson. The running back had a season-high 137 yards rushing on 25 carries, losing that 57-yard touchdown run that could’ve salted the game away. Between the hold and Gresham’s penalty – Rosen said Gresham was sticking up for teammate Larry Fitzgerald, when a Raider was laying on top of Fitzgerald unnecessarily – it not only forced a punt but let the Raiders get the ball back with more than two minutes left on the clock.
Without either penalty, the worst the Cardinals would have had would be punting to the Raiders with about 1:20 or so on the clock, since the Raiders were out of timeouts.
The Cards were still in decent shape, until quarterback Derek Carr hit Ateman, and a field-goal try was inevitable.
“Outside leverage position, and again, you just can’t relax,” Wilks said of Benwikere’s coverage. “You have to learn how to finish.”
Rosen was not sharp much of the game. The Cardinals had only 46 total yards in the middle two quarters. Rosen had touchdown passes to Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk in the first quarter, but also threw two interceptions and the offense was dormant when the Cards trailed by six.
Johnson saved them, ripping off runs of 10 and 53 yards to set up a second Fitzgerald touchdown catch. Later, punter Andy Lee had a magnificent boot downed at the Oakland 2, and on the next third down, Carr threw the ball right to Bynes – who couldn’t hang on.
Then came the Gresham dust-up, and it all unraveled from there.
“This one is going to sting,” Johnson said. “The Raiders, everybody knows, have been trading guys away. They are doing everything to try to rebuild. This is a tough one.”
The Cardinals rushed for 154 yards, but the Raiders -- who hadn't scored a touchdown the past two games -- rushed for 152 themselves. The Cards didn't force a turnover.
Rosen finished 9-for-20 for 136 yards, a nice TD-to-completion ratio but a showing that felt like a step back for much of the game.
“If there is an expression that exists of finding a way to lose, I think it applies here,” Rosen said. “We found a way to lose. … We have to find a way to win.”
Rosen was frustrated, saying that while he meant no disrespect to the Raiders, the Cardinals felt like they were the better team. While that may have been a prevailing feeling, it still was a loss like the previous seven.
“They’ve been hurting all the same,” Benwikere said.