Cardinals rewind: Loss adds to Valley’s persecution complex

TEMPE, Ariz. — Phoenix sports fans have a long history of perceived persecution by the men in black and white. 
Suns fans still talk about Robert Horry’s hip check of Steve Nash in the 2007 Western Conference semifinals, and the subsequent, inequitable fallout. Coyotes fans believe L.A.’s Dustin Brown got away with murder, not an open-ice hit on Michal Rozsival in the 2012 Western Conference Final. Cardinals fans believe that Santonio Holmes only got one foot down in bounds on his Super Bowl-winning catch in 2009. 
ASU fans know Jeff Pedergraph did not go over the back on that dunk against USC in the closing seconds of their 2008 Pac-10 Tournament game — the one that likely cost ASU an NCAA Tournament berth. And those same fans saw what everybody else saw in Madison, Wis. — a blatant pass interference call committed on Sun Devil wide receiver T.J. Simpson in the end zone in a 20-19 loss in 2010.
NFL officials added angst to the Valley’s victim complex in the Cardinals’ 24-21 loss to the Eagles on Sunday when Cards defensive back Tyrann Mathieu and linebacker Matt Shaughnessy got flagged for holding while Cards’ receiver Michael Floyd couldn’t get a call in plain view of the officials.
On Monday, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians opened his press conference by telling reporters the team had followed league protocols and sent tape of the game to the NFL offices.
Arians said there were about 15 plays in question.
“That’s pretty high,” he said. “I think that’s considered a problem.”
Arians said he got responses from the league to most of his questions before he ever left the locker room on Sunday, but he got no satisfaction from what were likely admissions that officials erred.
“No, I just get madder,” Arians said, smiling.  
But Arians knows those are the breaks that come in professional sports. Did they impact the loss? Sure. Did they cause it? You just can’t make that leap. There were too many other missed opportunities for the Cardinals in Philadelphia, and if you review the game tape, you’ll find a few calls that went the Cardinals’ way earlier in the game. 
When asked what message he would deliver to the team to ensure it turns the page quickly on such a tough loss in order to focus on the four games left in the season, Arians was firm.
“We haven’t won a division game in two years (the Cards actually beat Seattle in the season opener last season), and we play the division this week,” he said of Sunday’s game against the Rams. “If we’re ever going to be anything, we’d better start winning in our division. 
“That’s our only focus this week. I don’t want to hear about anything else in our locker except winning a division game, so that’s the message.”
When asked if the loss could cost the Cardinals a playoff game, Arians added this: “It possibly could, but I think a lot of things have to happen here in the last four weeks. I would hope that we give up all that talk this week and just focus on the St. Louis Rams.”
Right after Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald bounced off a tackle and took a pass from Carson Palmer 43 yards to the end zone to tie the game at 7-7 midway through the second quarter, Philadelphia responded with two scoring drives to end the half — a nine-play, 68-yard field-goal drive and a nine-play, 78-yard touchdown drive for a 17-7 halftime lead. From that point on, the Cardinals were chasing the game. 
WR Michael Floyd: He had five catches for a game-high 99 yards and a TD. He was targeted 10 times and could have been an even bigger factor had officials called a pair of penalties against his defenders late in the game, and had Carson Palmer not underthrown him on what could have been a first-quarter touchdown instead of an interception. 
CB Patrick Peterson: He would have stood out much more had his crucial interception not been called back in the fourth quarter due to a holding call on Tyrann Mathieu. But Peterson had two passes defensed, he was solid in run support when the Cards needed him, and he helped hold Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson to just three catches for 36 yards, his second lowest output of the season.
The Cards still haven’t solved the tight end riddle: Eagles tight end Zack Ertz caught five passes for 68 yards and two TDs, while fellow tight end Brent Celek caught four passes for 29 yards and a TD. Sigh.
The Cards still haven’t figured out how to win a significant road game: Their two road wins have come against Tampa and Jacksonville, two of the worst teams in the NFL. The Cards have come close — in St. Louis, San Francisco and Philadelphia — but they haven’t found the ingredients to break through.
Nick Foles is no fluke: The former University of Arizona QB has 19 TDs and zero interceptions. He made a bad decision on Peterson’s ill-fated interception, but he made mostly good decisions in completing 21 of 34 passes for 237 yards and three TDs. The body of evidence is large enough to say that Foles has earned the job as an NFL starter.
LB Kevin Minter suffered a shoulder injury and is day to day. RB Andre Ellington (knee) missed the game and is also day to day, but Arians said he probably won’t practice Wednesday. 
— Despite the crucial holding call against him, linebacker Matt Shaughnessy turned in a pretty good game with seven tackles, four for loss, and a sack. 
— The Eagles much-hyped, up-tempo offense didn’t bother the Cardinals much. “It was faster in practice,” Arians said. What hurt the Cardinals more was their inability to generate a turnover, but that has been Foles’ MO ever since he took over.
— The Cardinals are just 4-5 against the NFC, and that could hurt when it comes to potential tiebreakers for playoff scenarios. The Seahawks, Saints, Panthers, Eagles, Cowboys, Lions and 49ers all have better conference records.
— Left tackle Bradley Sowell wasn’t good on Sunday, but the Cards also allowed some pressure up the gut, mostly on Eagles’ line stunts. Right tackle Eric Winston was probably the only Cardinals lineman who graded out positively in pass protection. Arians though the noise in Philadelphia impacted the line, but he did note that Sowell’s technique needs to get better. Arians said he thought Sowell regressed on Sunday.
— The Cardinals used a three tight-end formation in the first half, with tackle Bobby Massie as the third tight end. They had success running the ball out of that formation.
— Rashard Mendenhall had another effective day running the ball (18 carries, 76 yards), but the Cards missed Andre Ellington’s dynamic ability in the run game. “Stepfan (Taylor) played very well, but he’s not Andre. He’s a different player,” Arians said. “Andre brings a different speed level to the game; different receiver level to the game. He’s a game breaker.”
— Defensive tackle Darnell Dockett appeared to struggle a bit against the Eagles. He didn’t generate much pressure and he was victimized a few times in the run game. Tyrann Mathieu had a tough day in coverage and hasn’t been the dynamic force the past few weeks that the Cards saw earlier in the season. Has he hit the rookie wall? 
St. Louis, Sunday, 2:25 p.m.: The Rams are coming off a 23-13 loss at San Francisco that all but ended their slim playoff hopes. Kellen Clemens has been serviceable in place of injured QB Sam Bradford (out for the season), but this is a game the Cardinals should win for their first NFC West victory in four tries.