Wide receiver Anquan Boldin can't believe an onside kick attempt bounced off the hands of teammate Ralph Brown late in Sunday's 37-29 loss to the Giants.
The Cardinals' locker room emptied quickly Sunday evening, and those that were left were talking about what might have been.
The defending Super Bowl champion Giants came to University of Phoenix Stadium and left the Cardinals with a loss – 37-29 was the final score – in Arizona for the first time this season. New York moved to 10-1 on the season and proved, without injured stars Brandon Jacobs and Plaxico Burress, why they are considered the best team in the NFL.
The Cardinals were close. And yet that, in many ways, didn't matter.
"I feel like this team is past moral victories," safety Adrian Wilson said. "They are a good football team (but) we made mistakes."
The Cardinals have a short week, needing to leave Wednesday morning for a Thanksgiving night game in Philadelphia. They had everything else they wanted to happen Sunday happen. The NFC West crown is tantalizingly close after Seattle lost to Washington and San Francisco lost to Dallas, meaning the Cards need one more victory period to officially claim the title.
A win against the Eagles will still clinch the division. But Carolina also lost to Atlanta Sunday, meaning the Cardinals could have crept closer to the No. 2 NFC playoff seed had they beaten the Giants.
"You can't beat yourself up every week," quarterback Kurt Warner said. "You have to take something from it and build off of it."
Still, the mistakes were easy to see. The special teams units had a poor day, allowing 83- and 68-yard kickoff returns to Domenik Hixon (setting up 10 points), botching an extra point, getting three crucial penalties (all on Matt Ware) and being unable to corral a late onside kick. Plus the Cards (7-4) turned the ball over twice, on a Warner fumble and an interception.
A team like the Giants doesn't make as many mistakes. It was worth the final eight-point margin.
Statistically, the Cardinals looked normal. Warner threw for 351 yards and kept alive his touchdown-pass streak with a late scoring toss to Anquan Boldin. The Cards outgained the Giants, 371-321. And while it may have been in part because of Jacobs' absence, the Giants – who had rushed for at least 200 yards the past three games – had just 87 as a team.
The Cardinals even had fewer penalties than the Giants by a substantial margin – nine to three.
But the Cards couldn't force any significant Giant hiccups. Quarterback Eli Manning was 26-for-33 for 240 yards and three touchdowns. He was sacked just once, pressured little, and New York never turned the ball over.
"We feel confident doing whatever a defense wants us to do," Manning said.
Warner, who threw 52 times (completing 32), was sacked only one time himself. But he was hit hard many times.
"That's what you expect when you play a team like this," Warner said.
But it wasn't the defense or the Giants' vaunted run game that sparked New York. It was Hixon.
The Cardinals had taken a 9-7 lead when Ahmad Bradshaw's kickoff return was bottled up at the New York 21-yard line. But Ware was offside and on the re-kick, Hixon ran it back 83 yards to the Arizona 17, setting up a field goal.
The Cardinals answered with their own field goal, but Hixon then broke a 68-yard kickoff return to the Arizona 32, setting up a touchdown. The Giants took a 17-12 lead – converting a 12-yard TD pass from Manning to Amani Toomer on third-and-7 – and never trailed again.
The returns were the "big difference in the game," Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "We gave them a short field twice."
But, added defensive tackle Darnell Dockett, "Just because they had short fields doesn't mean we have to give them touchdowns."
Warner's two turnovers, both in the second half, led to another 10 points. The Giants pushed the lead to 34-19 before Warner used J.J. Arrington's 40-yard kickoff return as a jumping off point for a 52-yard TD drive culminating in a five-yard scoring toss to Boldin.
Down eight, Whisenhunt went to an onside kick with 4:02 left. The execution was good up until the end, when Ralph Brown had the ball glance off his fingers.
The Giants got a field goal on the ensuing drive. The Cardinals hustled to cut the lead back to eight again, kicking a 44-yard field goal – Neil Rackers' third field goal of the game – on first down with 32 seconds left. It was the only chance to get an onside kick and have enough time to score a final touchdown.
But the onside attempt wasn't close the second time, hauled in cleanly by Giants receiver Steve Smith and New York had the victory.
"If it comes up again in the playoffs, if we get an opportunity to play them (again), it'll be a good game," defensive end Antonio Smith said. "I think it'll be a different game."
Contact Darren Urban at email@example.com. Posted 11/23/08.