Two Games That Killed the Arizona Cardinals Playoff Chances

Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports /

The Arizona Cardinals had a difficult season, but two winnable games cost them the most

The 2016 season isn’t going to be one that Arizona Cardinals fans look back on fondly. A team that was supposed to compete for a championship found itself fighting to even make the playoffs, and would, in fact, miss them. It was a fight to win games all season, but even so, just two games wound up costing them a trip to the postseason, and a shot at the Super Bowl.

After a slow start to the season, the Cardinals got things going, improving their record from 1-3 to 4-4-1, and into the thick of the playoff race. Going into their week 11 matchup, they were in good position, and facing a Minnesota Viking team that was reeling. Arizona was on a 3-1-1 streak, while the Vikings were in the midst of a four game losing streak.

Things did not go Arizona’s way, however. The Vikings offense was held in check, but it didn’t matter. Trailing 13-10 in the second quarter, Carson Palmer had the Cardinals inside the 10 yard line, and looking to take the lead. Unfortunately, Xavier Rhodes stepped in front of John Brown for an interception, which he returned 100 yards for a touchdown, giving the Vikings a 10 point lead.

Then, the Vikings opened the second half with a 104 yard kick return for another score. The Cardinals had one last chance to score, and win, but they weren’t able to move the ball. The loss dropped them back under .500. With the red-hot Atlanta Falcons up next, the loss was devastating, and instead of being .500 after the Falcons game, they sat at 4-6-1.

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Three weeks after the Vikings loss came another chance to get back to .500. The Cardinals were coming off a big win over the Washington Redskins, and were looking to maintain momentum for a final playoff push.

The Dolphins jumped out to a 21-9 lead, with Ryan Tannehill playing very efficiently. Carson Palmer, as was normal in road games this season, struggled somewhat. Still, he led the Cardinals back in the fourth quarter, tying the game late. However, it fell apart. Miami took the ball, after a short punt and good return, with 1:29 to go. Matt Moore, in the game for an injured Tannehill, was clutch, and they kicked a game-winning field goal with one second to go.

This loss was made even more painful by the fact that it was special teams gaffes that made the difference. Early on, the Cardinals scored, but missed the extra point, leaving them down 7-6. In the second quarter, Chandler Catanzaro missed a 41 yard field goal. Then, in the fourth quarter, an extra point was blocked, and returned for a score by Miami. If both extra points had been converted, the game goes to overtime, instead of being a loss.

Both games were heart-breakers, and both should have been wins. If the Cardinals had won those two games, their final record winds up being 9-6-1, and they would have made the playoffs as the second wild card team. It would also have left them playing the Seahawks, in Seattle, in the first round. Carson Palmer has won three straight games in Seattle.

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Fans are looking for a bounce-back season in 2017 from the Cardinals, and they have the pieces to do it. If they rebound, the 2016 season will fade away. For now, though, it’s hard not to look back at those two games, and what might have been.