ATLANTA (AP) A disappointing season just keeps getting worse for the Arizona Cardinals.
A popular pick to reach the Super Bowl, the Cardinals will be hard-pressed to make the playoffs after getting blown out by the Atlanta Falcons.
Taylor Gabriel burned Arizona's top-ranked defense by taking a couple of short passes for long touchdowns, leading the Falcons to a 38-19 victory Sunday.
''Very frustrating,'' coach Bruce Arians said. ''You have to start with yourself and see if you are asking guys to do things they can't do.''
Arians had a rough week, falling ill and requiring a brief hospital stay .
Having their coach back on the sideline did nothing to inspire the Cardinals (4-6-1), who have just one victory in their last five games and might have to win out to have any shot at returning to the playoffs.
Arians isn't looking that far ahead.
''We need one win,'' he said. ''There is nobody left on the schedule that we can't beat, and who knows what the final tally will be? All we need to do is just win one.''
The Cardinals never expected to be in this position after reaching the NFC championship game last season. With plenty of offensive weapons and an aggressive, attacking defense that came into Sunday's game ranked No. 1 in the league, Arizona looked like a team that could go all the way .
Those goals seem totally out of reach with just over a month to go in the regular season.
''I'm just bummed,'' said Carson Palmer, who threw for 289 yards and a pair of touchdowns, but didn't do nearly enough to turn things around. ''It's disheartening, frustrating, and it hurts.''
This game was a microcosm of the Cardinals' season, as they showed flashes of their enormous potential but were undone by silly mistakes.
Arizona marched right down the field on its first two possessions, burning the Falcons with eight plays that covered at least 13 yards. But a botched shotgun snap on the second drive forced the Cardinals to settle for a field goal, and that seemed to turn the momentum in Atlanta's favor.
Trailing 17-13, the Cardinals started the second half by sacking Matt Ryan four times on Atlanta's first possession, though one was nullified by a penalty. The next time the Falcons got the ball, D.J. Swearinger was perfectly positioned for an interception but couldn't hang on. Atlanta went on to score a touchdown for a 24-13 lead.
''D.J. catches that ball 100 times,'' Arians moaned, ''and he drops it.''
Finally, with one last chance to get back in the game, the Cardinals went on fourth-and-7 at the Atlanta 40 early in the fourth quarter. Michael Floyd dropped the pass and ''killed the momentum we had going,'' the coach said.
''I thought both of those plays were the keys to the second half in an evenly fought ballgame,'' Arians added.
Playing behind a young, patched-together offensive line, Palmer was sacked twice and took 10 hits. It was a better showing than the previous week in a loss to Minnesota, though Arians noted that the Cardinals ''used more max protection today than we have in three years.''
More troubling was the performance by Arizona's defense.
The Falcons burned the Cardinals twice on quick screen passes to the 5-foot-8, 165-pound Gabriel, who had scoring plays of 35 and 25 yards. Arizona surrendered its most points of the season and gave up its most yards (360) since a Week 1 loss to New England.
''We have a defense that was ranked No. 1,'' Arians said, ''but we are not playing like a No. 1 defense.''
The Cardinals are running out of time to turn things around.
A season that began with such optimism just keeps getting worse.
Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 . His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/paul-newberry .
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