In the pouring rain, Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald can't pull in a high Carson Palmer pass during Sunday's 26-23 loss to the Dolphins.
MIAMI GARDENS, Florida – So this is where the season went to die.
In the pouring rain of south Florida, among a flurry of turnovers, special teams problems that have typified this season but also an impressive rally to tie the game, the Cardinals had what was essentially their last gasp of playoff air.
The Dolphins kicked a field goal on the final play of the game to beat the Cardinals, 26-23, in the near-constant downpour at Hard Rock Stadium, and the Cards – many pundits' Super Bowl pick before the season – knew it was all but impossible to turn their 5-7-1 record into a postseason bid.
Now, the Cardinals want to make sure they don't ignore the last three games of the season – the first time in the Bruce Arians era they've been in this position.
"Coach came in and said we were probably eliminated from the playoffs, and a lot of guys like to start making offseason plans," cornerback Patrick Peterson said. "But we have a good nucleus of guys. The season isn't over yet. We still have a lot of football left and we still want to put good stuff on film."
For a moment – when wide receiver J.J. Nelson brought in an eight-yard touchdown pass with three
minutes left and running back David Johnson caught the game-tying two-point conversion – it looked like the Cardinals were going to have that win they sought.
The Cards didn't play well. They had four turnovers in the first half (the Dolphins had three in the game, and nearly a fourth late.) The kicking game was a mess. Chandler Catanzaro missed a 41-yard field goal. High snaps on two extra point tries caused a problem too, with Catanzaro missed one badly and the other one blocked and returned for two important points.
Catanzaro answered most reporters' questions with some theme of how he let the team down and "I'm sorry," and it certainly played into a season where special teams has hurt the Cards too often.
Injuries wrecked opportunity too. Not only did starting left tackle D.J. Humphries leave in the first half with a concussion, but the defense lost safety Tyvon Branch to a groin injury and the secondary – down Tyrann Mathieu and Tharold Simon -- was so short at one point, wide receiver Brittan Golden went in to play safety.
The injuries were so bad, Arians said defensive coordinator James Bettcher was forced to abandon most
blitzes late because the Cardinals didn't have the right manpower to run them.
The rain was brutal, and coach Bruce Arians and players all noted that it seemed to come down hard mostly when the Cardinals had the ball.
"Rain is one thing," Arians said. "Pouring-down, soaking-ass wet balls are another."
Quarterback Carson Palmer struggled, not getting past the 100-yard mark until less than eight minutes were left. But he connected with Golden for Golden's first NFL touchdown and found Nelson later.
Palmer finished 18-for-33 for 145 yards, and two interceptions as well. But it was a lost play, when the Cardinals had the ball in a tie game with less than two minutes left, that changed the game. Palmer took the shotgun snap but the ball slipped from his fingers in the driving rain.
It lost six and undercut the drive. The Dolphins (8-5) got the ball back on a punt and were able to maneuver the short field to get in field goal range. The big play was backup quarterback Matt Moore – in after Ryan Tannehill suffered a knee injury – finding Kenny Stills for 29 yards down to the Arizona 1, beating the blitz and Stills beating cornerback Justin Bethel.
"We played a hell of a fourth quarter up until the last three minutes," Arians said.
Andrew Franks booted the short field goal, and the Cardinals were left wondering what could have been.
"To lose it with one second on the clock is probably the worst way you can lose it, the most painful way you could lose it," Palmer said quietly.
The locker room vibe felt like a playoff loss, no surprise since the Cardinals knew they were essentially in playoff games given their spot in the standings.
"What do you say?" defensive tackle Frostee Rucker said. "With all of the elements and adversity in the game, you fight through it, and for the most part we did.
"We fight though anything. It's just that it doesn't always end up as a 'W' at the end of the day."
As for the uncharted territory Arians is in with his team as a head coach, the Saints are still visiting University of Phoenix Stadium in a week.
"We're going to show up and work Wednesday," Arians said.
"Whether the playoffs are in or out, I don't really give a (expletive)."
Images from the Week 14 game in Miami