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Just Short: Cardinals Can't Top Seahawks Or Grab NFC West

Playoffs begin next week on road in L.A. against Rams after 38-30 loss

Tight end Zach Ertz runs after one of his seven catches Sunday during the Cardinals' 38-30 loss to the Seahawks to close out the regular season.
Tight end Zach Ertz runs after one of his seven catches Sunday during the Cardinals' 38-30 loss to the Seahawks to close out the regular season.

The crowd erupted 10 seconds into the game when Chandler Jones had one of his patented strip sacks of Russell Wilson, and Zach Allen returned it for a touchdown.

This was how the Cardinals were supposed to play at home. This was how to head into the playoffs. This was how the NFC West, with a little help, would be won.

But by the time the game was over, while the Cardinals knew they had a playoff berth awaiting them, it wasn't what they wanted, not after a 38-30 loss to the Seahawks at State Farm Stadium to close out the 2021 regular season.

Running back James Conner got hurt late with a ribs injury, a concerning situation to watch. The defense gave up 190 yards rushing to Seattle's Rashaad Penny. And the 49ers completed an impressive comeback in Los Angeles in overtime, beating the Rams, 27-24.

Had the Cardinals (11-6) won, they would have been NFC West champions. Instead, the Rams hang on to the title, and it is Los Angeles to where the Cardinals must go next week, opening the playoffs against the Rams on "Monday Night Football."

"You have to get back up – it's a new season," coach Kliff Kingsbury said, adding that he wasn't lamenting the missed opportunity of an NFC West crown. "We would've liked to have won the division, but we're in the playoffs, we'll go play them next week and it should be a heck of a game."

The Cardinals finished 3-5 at home -- the first time a Cardinals playoff team has had a losing record at home since moving to Arizona -- and even Kingsbury had to acknowledge "it appears that way" when asked if it might be better to play on the road for the postseason.

"We haven't played very well here (at home)," Kingsbury said. "Today, (the Seahawks) just played like they wanted it more – outcoached, outplayed us."

The exact day and time of the playoff game will be announced later Sunday night. But the Cardinals again have to fix certain parts of the game – things that looked much better in a win over the Cowboys the week prior – to have any chance at an extended postseason run.

"We didn't come out and do our job," said safety Jalen Thompson, whose interception set up a short-lived third-quarter lead. "We got to move forward."

The Jones play to open the game was fantastic. But the unit allowed the Seahawks (7-10) to answer on the very next drive to tie the game at 7, including the first of two blown coverages for long Russell Wilson touchdown passes.

Offensively, the Cardinals struggled mightily – allowed five sacks, less than 100 total yards in the first half – but came alive and, aided by Thompson, built a quick 24-17 lead early in the third quarter. But when they got the ball back with that lead, they couldn't convert after gaining nine yards on first down, and after a punt, the Seahawks answered with a tying TD and the Cards never led again.

"Personally, I'm frustrated," quarterback Kyler Murray said. "The mood of the team? I think everyone realizes it's a new season. Really nothing in the past matters at this point. You have to go 1-0. It's one-and-done. I think the guys understand that."

Murray finished 28 of 39 for 240 yards, a TD pass and no interceptions – the Cardinals won the turnover battle 2-1 – but Matt Prater ended up having to kick three more field goals, the last two that reached the red zone.

Those are touchdowns the Cardinals need to convert.

"I feel like guys are a little more angry coming off a loss like this, guys are a little more upset, guys are a little more antsy to get back to work," said tight end Zach Ertz, who led the Cardinals with seven receptions. "We would love to be on a two-game winning streak going into the postseason, but this could be good for us too."

The Cardinals need some health. Breon Borders, the sixth cornerback on the depth chart who came in after Kevin Peterson suffered a concussion early in the game, was picked on. The Cardinals could perhaps still get J.J. Watt on the field too – although Watt alone won't make everything better on a rush defense that backslid after a good game in Dallas.

Penny had 131 yards rushing in the second half alone, highlighted by a 62-yard TD scamper that all but ended Cardinals' hopes.

"It's a wake-up call going into the playoffs and I think guys are taking it that way," Allen said. "I don't think there is 'woe is me,' I think it's 'let's get back to work and let's fix it.' "

The Cardinals know they were 8-1 on the road this season, and beat the Rams in L.A., 37-20. But that was back in Week 4, and a lot has happened since then. The Rams are also coming off a loss that ticked them off – the winner of Cards-Rams now might have to play at Green Bay in the Divisional Round – but at least they won a division.

"I've got to get over it pretty quick," Murray said.

So do all the Cardinals. The Rams await.