Maybe the Arizona defense hasn’t had enough time to absorb the loss of defensive back Tyrann Mathieu. Maybe the Cardinals just relaxed with a 17-point, mid-fourth quarter lead. Maybe it’s just that hard to dominate a team for four quarters on the road.
Whatever the reasons for Sunday’s Music City meltdown, it’s water under the bridge because the Cardinals found a way to win, getting an Antoine Cason interception in overtime to set up Jay Feely’s 41-yard field goal for a 37-34 victory over the Titans in Nashville.
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“It’s not like the BCS,” Feely said. “You don’t get style points. You’ve just got to win a game and move onto the next one and hopefully keep winning.”
You know what matters now? Seattle.
The Cardinals (9-5) have been remarkably consistent in winning the games they’ve been supposed to win this season, including this one over the 5-9 Titans. But San Francisco and Carolina just aren’t cooperating.
The 49ers routed the Buccaneers in Tampa while the Panthers beat the Jets on Sunday to stay one game ahead of the Cardinals in what has really become a three-team race for two NFC wild-card spots.
To overtake one of those teams, the Cardinals have to beat a team they’re not supposed to beat. And it’s not even that simple. If they want to make the playoffs, they have to go on the road and beat what looks like the NFL’s best team. They have to beat Seattle (12-2) in a building in which the Seahawks are 6-0 this season, outscoring opponents by an average of 33-14.
Oh, and they might have to do it without receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who left Sunday’s game with what multiple reports say is likely a concussion.
“We want to win out, and that is our main focus,” said running back Andre Ellington, who also left Sunday’s game with a thigh bruise. “We are going to do everything that we can to win the next one.”
Will that even be enough? If this were the final game of the season, the Seahawks might rein in the starters and rest up for the playoffs. But Seattle will be playing to secure home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. And in case you haven’t noticed, CenturyLink Field is one heck of a home-field advantage. The Seahawks haven’t lost a regular-season game there since Dec. 24, 2011, a stretch of 14 straight wins.
“That place is as loud as any place I’ve ever been,” Cardinals defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said last week.
The Seahawks feed off of that noise, and Seattle has one of the league’s best pass rushes, tallying 40 sacks this season. Imagine that combination if Cardinals QB Carson Palmer shows up with a gimpy ankle after a low blow from Tennessee’s Kamerion Wimbley on Sunday forced trainers to heavily tape that ankle.
Mathematically, the Cardinals don’t need to win in Seattle to make the playoffs. If they lose that game and then beat the 49ers in the final game of the season, they could make the playoffs if the Panthers lose to the Saints next week and then at the Falcons in the season finale.
But if Arizona loses next week, it can’t catch San Francisco, which owns a tiebreaker even if the Cardinals win the season finale because the 49ers have a better division record, the second tiebreaker for a wild card if teams are from the same division.
The Cards win a head-to-head tiebreaker with Carolina because they beat the Panthers, but counting on Carolina to lose twice seems like a fool’s plan. And the Cardinals also lose a three-way tiebreaker with the Panthers and 49ers, so while the odds are still long with a win on Sunday, they look positively dismal without one.
So it’s time to initiate mission impossible, which Feely reminded us might just be possible given the way this team keeps stacking wins.