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Another Home Loss for Playoff-Bound Cardinals

Figuring out this Arizona Cardinals team is proving to be way too difficult.

Can anyone figure out this Cardinals team?

At times, it appears there are no teams they could lose to. Then, the script is flipped, and it looks like they can’t beat anyone.

How can a record of 8-1 on the road and 3-5 at home be explained, especially after ending the season with a five-game home losing streak following Sunday’s 38-30 loss to the Seahawks that could have ended triumphantly with a NFC West championship?

Perhaps it’s best that this Jekyll and Hyde unit will be on the road for the postseason.

How can the defense look like it did last week in Dallas or in Week 1 against Tennessee and then allow Seattle to total 431 yards when they only had the ball for 24:11? That’s about 18 yards per minute, which is only possible because the Seahawks had nine plays of 20 yards or more that totaled 275 (63.8%) of their output.

It was a defense that strip-sacked quarterback Russell Wilson on the second play of the game and scored a touchdown, but didn’t sack him again for the rest of the afternoon.

For the record, the Cardinals gained only 305 yards despite possessing the ball for nearly 36 minutes. 

That’s 8.5 yards per minute, which was low-lighted by an excruciating to watch 19-play drive that totaled 67 yards, took 10:41 off the clock, yet ended with a field goal because running back James Conner was dropped for a 2-yard loss on third-and-1 from the Seattle 21.

That possession averaged 3.5 yards per play, which wasn’t that much lower than their awful 4.2 for the game on 72 plays. The Seahawks, meanwhile, averaged 7.6 on only 57 plays.

It was truly a backward day for the Cardinals. Quarterback Kyler Murray was sacked five times for 53 yards in losses, there were three plays that “totaled” minus-10 yards and they committed 56 yards in offensive penalties.

Earlier in the season, the Cardinals were one of the league’s best teams scoring red-zone touchdowns. Entering Sunday’s game, they were still 11th in the league with a 61.3 percentage. 

Recently, not so much. 

They managed a touchdown on only one of three trips against Seattle and the one success came after safety Jalen Thompson’s interception return ended at the 1-yard line. And it took two tries for Conner to reach the end zone. That also doesn’t include the previously referenced possession that was two yards short of being in the red zone.

They failed twice in the fourth quarter on possessions that lasted 14 plays and each reached the 8-yard line on first down. Those both ended with field goals with the game on the line.

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The first was the crucial one. Trailing 31-24, running back Eno Benjamin lost four yards on first down and Murray followed with two incompletions.

The defense then sprung a leak when running back Rashaad Penny was hardly touched on a 62-yard touchdown run that gave Seattle a 38-27 lead.

The Cardinals again drove to the 8-yard line, but a first-down completion to wide receiver A.J. Green netted nothing, second down produced an incompletion and after tight end Zach Ertz was flagged for offensive pass interference, there was another incompletion on third-and-18.

Murray said, “They basically played bend but don’t break defense and we couldn’t punch it in. We had a penalty on the last drive which pushed us back, the pass interference, but we have to be better going into playoffs.”

“We just haven’t been very good down there,” head coach Kliff Kingsbury acknowledged. “Whether it’s scheme or execution, missed opportunities, negative plays continue to haunt us, and we’ve got to score touchdowns to win these type games.”

Ertz, who took exception to the penalty, was asked about the issues in the red zone.

He said, “If I could pinpoint it, it would already be solved. But at the same time, I think the red zone is all about execution. Windows gets smaller. Plays got to be made faster, contested catches got to be there, got to run the football. So it's just a combination of not executing in the run game, in the pass game. I mean, it's not one thing. Obviously, we have to score touchdowns in the red zone and this team can and should score touchdowns when we're inside the 20.

“There's just too many big bodies to not do it. And that's what it's all about when you get down there like playing basketball boxing out and in the pass game. So we got to find a way to score touchdowns.”

So, as the Cardinals prepare to travel to Los Angeles to play the Rams next Monday night, which team will we see?

Ertz knows one thing. He said, “In the playoffs, you can't settle for field goals. It's about scoring touchdowns, as many touchdowns as you can because you can't come up short in that area.”

Since starting the season 7-0, the Cardinals have come up short too many times, winning only four of their last 10 games.

If it happens again next Monday, the sour taste in everyone’s mouth will last a while, even in a season that should be considered a success with a playoff appearance.

As Kingsbury echoed the words often said by many, “Anything can happen once you make the postseason.”

We’ll learn soon enough whether his team can make believers out of everyone again.