Arizona has winning season but could miss playoffs
With two weeks to go, the Arizona Cardinals have clinched their first winning season since 2009.
A spot in the playoffs, though, will require a whole lot of help.
After surviving a 37-34 overtime victory Sunday at Tennessee, the Cardinals close the season in the teeth of the NFC West powers. They go to Seattle next Sunday then finish at home against San Francisco.
Even victories in both wouldn’t guarantee a playoff spot.
Arizona is 9-5 – one game behind the 49ers and NFC South co-leaders Carolina and New Orleans.
A winning record in his first season as coach ”won’t mean anything if we don’t make the playoffs,” Bruce Arians said.
To get one of the NFC wild card spots, the best hope for the Cardinals is to finish in a tie with Carolina, because Arizona has the tiebreaker by virtue of a victory over the Panthers back in Week 5.
Any three-team tie involving the teams currently ahead of them looks like bad news for the Cardinals, since the tiebreaker probably would be conference record. Arizona is 5-5 in the conference, San Francisco and Carolina, 7-3. New Orleans, 8-2 in the conference, holds the tiebreaker in a two-way tie with the Cardinals because the Saints beat them.
Arizona could finish 11-5 and still not make the postseason.
”It would be really weird,” Arians said. ”It would be the first time for me. I’m used to winning the division with 11-5. It’s a great division and the NFC is playing extremely well this year. We’ll just wait and see.”
Larry Fitzgerald, who has played in 104 consecutive games dating to 2007, did not play in the overtime Sunday after sustaining a concussion trying to field the ball on the Titans’ late successful onside kick attempt.
”He passed whatever test he needed to pass to come out of the stadium,” Arians said, ”but that’s still a long ways to go from being cleared.”
Winning at Seattle would be hard enough even with their star receiver.
The Seahawks, with deafening crowd support and consistently wet, cold weather, have won 14 straight at home. The last time Arizona ventured to the Northwest, when the Cardinals were in disarray last season, Seattle won 58-0.
”It’s extremely tough,” said Arians, who wasn’t part of that debacle. ”The noise, they play extremely well there. It’s a great barometer to see how far you’ve come in our division.”
Arizona had lost nine straight games against NFC West opponents before beating St. Louis two weeks ago.
Arizona’s defense moved up to No. 1 in the NFL against the run after the Titans got just 66 yards on the ground. But the ranking doesn’t mean much, Arians said, since the Cardinals gave up 394 yards passing at Tennessee.
”We didn’t rush the passer very well,” Arians said. ”Our top performers didn’t get to the quarterback.”
Of usually reliable cornerback Patrick Peterson, Arians said, ”It was not his best game by far.”
In addition to Fitzgerald’s concussion, Arizona lost safety Rashad Johnson on Sunday with a high ankle sprain. Johnson had just moved into the starting lineup with the season-ending knee surgery to Tyrann Mathieu a week earlier. That meant playing time for rookie Tony Jefferson, who put the pressure on Ryan Fitzpatrick on the play that resulted in Antoine Cason’s interception in overtime.
After the turnover and a 15-yard run by Rashard Mendenhall, Jay Feely kicked a 41-yard field goal to win the game after the Cardinals blew a 17-point lead late in the fourth quarter.
Cason, who played little this season before Sunday, also returned an interception for a touchdown.
When the game went into overtime, the defense collectively thought ”someone has to make a play,” Cason said. ”Who knows who it’s going to be?”
Carson Palmer sprained an ankle but stayed in the game and should be fine for the Seahawks, Arians said. Tight end Rob Housler missed the game with a groin injury and it’s uncertain whether he will be able to play at Seattle.
Since the team won, Arians gave his veteran players Monday off, although most of them showed up early to work out and watch video of the game anyway.
While the Cardinals have three winning seasons since 2008, they have only a total of four since moving to the desert in 1988.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org
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