Carson Palmer walked off the field Sunday, baseball cap on his head, his look muted. He was by himself, and if it wasn't for a brief stop to sign a Cardinals helmet for a disabled fan in a wheelchair when he entered the tunnel, he would have been alone in his thoughts until the locker room.
The quarterback said the same things as always when he met with the media — the team needs to figure out what mistakes they made and then set out on correcting them — but he knows the opportunities are slipping away for this team this season. All the Cardinals do. As safety Tony Jefferson said — quietly — "It's never over 'till it's over," and mathematically the Cards aren't really that close to eliminated.
But the tea leaves make it harder to remain optimistic, especially after a loss against a team the Cardinals are directly battling for a wild card spot. The Seahawks were handling the Eagles Sunday, and that's another blow in the NFC West race.
It's not like the Vikings were great Sunday. Bruce Arians said once again, it was his team beating itself. That's happened way too often this season.
-- Arians was asked if the special teams were being coached well enough. Special teams coordinator Amos Jones was not named specifically. "Extremely, extremely well," Arians said.
-- Special teams did have some good plays. Justin Bethel blocking an extra point. Brittan Golden getting a 49-yard kickoff return. But the kickoff return was a killer, and the failure of John Brown to catch the final punt hurt a lot too — although there was no guarantee the Cards would have moved it either.
-- That was the first time a team had an interception return of at least 100 yards and a kickoff return of at least 100 yards since the Cowboys did it in 1962.
-- According to Pro Football Focus, the Vikings targeted receiver Stefon Diggs eight times when Patrick Peterson was covering him. The result? Five receptions for 35 yards.
-- The offensive line actually did a nice job blocking for the run all day — David Johnson was fantastic in both the run and pass game — but whatever it may have been able to do in the pass and play-action game was undone by the final quarter when Palmer was swamped repeatedly. Taylor Boggs was in at right guard at the end and not Earl Watford; there was no Watford injury reported.
-- Palmer said he thought there was an obvious hold on John Brown on the 100-yard interception. Brown also said he was held although he was more muted in his statement.
-- There was confusion — and anger — over the two 15-yard penalties called on Patrick Peterson (hitting QB-turned-wide receiver Sam Bradford) and Tony Jefferson (hitting what looked like a live Diggs on the sideline apparently too hard) and I personally am not sure why they were flagged. But it only lead to a field goal, and the Cards unfortunately couldn't even generate enough to get into field goal range anyway. (UPDATE: This ESPN story contains a good analysis of the Peterson hit and the rule book.)
-- Arians said the receivers didn't run great routes. Michael Floyd can't slow up on a deep ball, even if he isn't sure if the ball will come his way. I'll have to re-watch the end too, but when Palmer couldn't find anyone open late, the wideouts seemed to have a tough time moving around to help him.
-- It's becoming weekly now — Chandler Jones with an important play. His strip-sack in the fourth quarter made it a game.
-- Finally, it wasn't a happy homecoming for Larry Fitzgerald. He started hot, with four catches for 53 yards in the first half, including a dazzling one-handed catch to get a first down inside the Minnesota 10 on the Cardinals' first scoring drive. But he only had two catches for 10 yards after halftime. And the Cards suffered a painful loss.
"We had a bunch of yards and time of possession but at the end of the day it comes down to wins," Fitzgerald said. "It doesn't matter if it's pretty or ugly. You are trying to come out with a win any way you can."