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Dramatic Incompetence and the True Story of an NFL Tie

‘The craziest game I’ve ever played’ was how one 13-year vet described Seattle 6, Arizona 6. Here are the bewildering details from the scene, plus the success of Matthew Stafford, Josh Brown fallout and more on Week 7

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Scenes from a beautiful and dramatic and sometimes incompetent debacle, the best really bad game I have ever seen: Cardinals 6, Seahawks 6.

* * *

“I never drew before,” beaten-up running back David Johnson of the Cardinals said, standing on the field, truly dazed, a minute after it ended.

“Huh?” he was asked.

“It was a draw,” he said. “Never played in a draw before.”

Chandler Catanzaro, on his 25-yard missed field goal which would have won the game: ‘I know I make that kick 999,999 out of a million.’

Chandler Catanzaro, on his 25-yard missed field goal which would have won the game: ‘I know I make that kick 999,999 out of a million.’

* * *

Other side of the field.

“How many plays did we play?” Richard Sherman said, walking a little awkwardly, like he was staving off cramps.

“A lot,” he was told.

“However many,” he said, “felt like we were just out there all night. It was just …”

No words, really. Except the one, maybe, that I offered.

“Kickers,” I said.

“Kickers,” he said, with a little smile.

* * *

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Ever see a kicker surrounded by a force field? The kind of force field no one will enter? Toward the end of a dramatic football game, the sidelines are packed with people. Club employees, security, NFL Films, network TV, interlopers who probably shouldn’t be there, players creeping down the sidelines for a better look at the action. So this was the situation when Arizona’s Chandler Catanzaro trotted onto the field with 3:26 left in overtime to kick a chip-shot field goal. Just 24 yards. Nine yards shorter than an extra point. Chippy.

To recap: Extraordinary game. Catanzaro made a field goal late in the first half for a 3-0 lead. The Seahawks, after a bonehead Arizona special teams play—a spare Seahawk wideout, Tanner McEvoy, bullrushed through the line and smothered a punt late in the fourth quarter—tied it with four minutes left on a Steven Hauschka field goal. Catanzaro and Hauschka opened overtime with field goals. Now it was 6-6. Arizona ball, 6:42 left.

On the sideline, before they went out on the field, a teammate asked Carson Palmer: “We still each get the ball?”

No, Donovan McNabb. Sudden death now.

Beautiful first call. All night David Johnson was getting the ball, but on first down, Palmer play-actioned to Johnson and lofted a strike to young and invisible tight end Ifeanyi Momah for 27 yards. Palmer to Jimmy Nelson for 40 with a flailing Sherman in coverage, to the five-yard line. And then a run left for Johnson—remember this; we’ll discuss later—that was stopped three inches shy of the goal line. We think. Obviously Bruce Arians doesn’t trust his kicking game (he shouldn’t) so he tried to have Johnson stick it in once more. Nope. But here is the easy field goal.

Clank. Left upright.

A helmet slammed the ground on the Cardinals sideline. Disbelief was on every face. Palmer met Catanzaro just before he left the field and got in his face with five seconds of encouragement.

Catanzaro came to the sideline. He stared up, saying nothing. He pierced the crowd on the sideline, then stood by himself for 60, 90, 120 seconds, arms crossed. No one else approached him. The loneliness of the long-distance kicker. Or short-distance, in this case.

* * *

Then, of course, Seattle got in position, with a beautiful Russell Wilson-to-Jermaine Kearse lofted strike for 31 yards, and then a Doug Baldwin catch-and-run to the Arizona 9-yard line. Field goal unit comes on. Game over.

Hauschka, wide left by a mile from 28. From 28!

An hour after the game: “I’m still trying to process what I just saw,” said Larry Fitzgerald.

* * *

Stephen Hauschka had made two field goals Sunday before missing a chip shot in the final seconds.

Stephen Hauschka had made two field goals Sunday before missing a chip shot in the final seconds.

This game was a bad tie for Arizona. The Cardinals needed to win. They are 3-3-1. Seattle, atop the NFC West, is 4-1-1. Arizona is two games behind, essentially, with nine to play, and with two home games and five on the road in the final seven weeks. Seattle still has to play at New England and Green Bay but finishes with three of five at home.

I was going to say something to Bruce Arians as he walked off the field post-game, but he had that “not now” look in his eye and just shook his head in a disappointed way. The crowd didn’t know how to react either. The whole thing was weird. But Seattle benefited, without a doubt. Still two up in the loss column.

The Cardinals, the No. 1 offense in football last year with most of the same characters active Sunday night, possessed the ball for 46:19 and scored six points. Arizona had 14 possessions and scored two field goals. This one will hurt for a while. When this season is put to bed in Arizona, whatever happens short of an NFC title, the special teams will be the unit that doomed the franchise. Seattle blocked a field goal on the acrobatic rush of Bobby Wagner, who leaped over the snapper, Aaron Brewer, to smother the kick. McEvoy’s blocked punt highlighted the weakness of the Arizona punt-block unit; he bowled over Kerwin Williams. And then the Catanzaro clank.

“I thought,” said Arians to the press, “that our football team, other than the three plays in the kicking game, was outstanding. Our kicking game let us down a little bit today. We left three field goals out there.”

Someone asked Arians what he said to Catanzaro after the miss.

“Make it,” Arians responded. “This ain’t high school.”

* * *

David Johnson (171 total yards) carried a heavy workload for the Cardinals on Sunday night.

David Johnson (171 total yards) carried a heavy workload for the Cardinals on Sunday night.

Larry Fitzgerald, with time to digest it: “I’ve been in this league 13 years. I’ve played in more than 200 games, regular season and playoffs. And this is the craziest game I’ve ever played in.”

The reaction in the locker room, he said, was “somber. If you’d have walked in, you’d have thought we lost the game. It was just a really, really weird feeling. It feels like you lost. But you didn’t lose. You didn’t win, but you didn’t lose. A perplexing feeling.”

Fitzgerald said the range of emotions was so big, going from Nelson sprinting down to the Seattle 5-yard line late in the fourth quarter (“I was sure he was going to score”) to lining up for the easy field goal, to then Catanzaro clanking the field goal try, to Seattle moving downfield with ease for the win, and then Hauschka missing ridiculously.

“The swing of emotions in two minutes … incredible. I thought J.J. was gonna score, and I dropped to my knee, so happy. Then he’s not in, and we miss the kick, it’s an extra point, it’s a foregone conclusion, and they miss the kick. Crazy.”

* * *

We’ll end with Johnson. So much of him is antidote to what we’re seeing in the NFL in this young season. In the past three weeks, in prime time, we’ve had the Giants lay down in Minnesota on Monday night, Arizona pancake the Niners and the Bears no-show in Green Bay on Thursday. And then, the last two Mondays, the Bucs slog through a 17-14 sleep-inducer at Carolina and the Jets imitate a team of Ralph Kramdens trying to beat the Cardinals. And Thursday of this week, it’s Jacksonville-Tennessee. Football Fever! Catch it!

Johnson was big and a gumby character and tough as they come Sunday night. Rushes: 33. (Runs called back by penalty: two.) Targets: 13. Catches: eight, for 58 yards. Yards against the formidable Seattle defense: 171.

“I’m not tired,” Johnson said when it was over. “I’ll be sore tomorrow for sure. But I’m not tired.”

Johnson will be on my podcast this week. If he’s not tired after getting whacked around in that game like he was, well, he’s a lot tougher than he looks.

• THE VIKINGS HAVE A BIG PROBLEM: Andy Benoit tackles the glaring issue exposed in Minnesota’s first loss of the season

* * *

Matthew Stafford, the dominant one

After winning their opener, Stafford and the Lions lost three straight and followed that up with three consecutive victories.

After winning their opener, Stafford and the Lions lost three straight and followed that up with three consecutive victories.

For the third straight Sunday, the Lions trailed at home in the fourth quarter. For the third straight Sunday, the Lions rallied to win behind a quarterback who has been at his career best without one of the best receivers of recent history.

Why, I asked Matthew Stafford on Sunday, have you survived so well without Johnson?

“Hard work,” he said from Detroit an hour after his perfectly placed 18-yard dart to Anquan Boldin beat Washington, to the delight of Ford Field gone mad. “Not only by myself, but by my receivers, my teammates. One player doesn’t make a team. Football’s such a great team game. These new guys have come in and worked and proven they’re pretty good football players.”

We’ll get to how good Stafford’s been in the clutch, and overall. But there’s something to what he says. Let’s look at the way human nature works. You have a superstar. He’s humble, he’s always good, he’s a great force, and he’s consistently productive. That’s what Calvin Johnson was. But there’s also part of a team with a superstar, regardless whether he stomps his feet when he doesn’t get the ball or not, that is a bit burdensome. (Johnson didn’t stomp his feet, by the way.) A quarterback starts to think, Gotta get the ball to Calvin, instead of thinking only what he should be thinking: Hit the open guy.