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Seahawks' Explosive Plays Cost Cardinals in Week 18

The Seattle Seahawks found third-down success downfield against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 18.
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The Arizona Cardinals' defense, a unit that has done well at limiting big gains this year, allowed nine plays of 20 or more yards in Sunday's 38-30 loss to the Seattle Seahawks. 

The Cardinals did not have their best showing on either side of the ball in the regular-season finale, and it cost them the NFC West crown. Arizona would have won the division with a victory over Seattle. 

The Seahawks gained 431 total yards on Sunday, 275 of which were on those nine plays. They accounted for 64% of Seattle's total yards. 

The capper was a 62-yard touchdown run by running back Rashaad Penny with 4:34 remaining in the game. That brought the score to 38-27, putting it out of reach. 

The Cardinals allowed only 45 rushing yards last week in Dallas before Sunday's major setback. Seattle gained 202 yards on the ground, the most Arizona has allowed all season. 

Penny accounted for 190. 

“He played really well, but they’re doing a good job up front, and I think we had some missed assignments that led to some big runs,” head coach Kliff Kingsbury said postgame. 

Arizona's rush defense has been a constant topic this season. It has faced a gauntlet of talented rushing teams, but the early issues like gap discipline (a key word all year) and tackling remained in Week 18. 

"It's nine guys doing it right and two doing wrong or missed tackles or whatever it is," defensive end Zach Allen said postgame. "It's pretty fresh, I'm in the trenches so I can't see the whole picture . . . That's something that we're gonna clean up. I think we've proven that when we get hit in the mouth, that we can come back and learn how to clean it up. So that's encouraging."

The Cardinals have had games this season like last week when that has been cleaned up. But an issue that was present in Week 2 burned the team in the regular-season finale and could in the playoffs. 

The Cardinals' pass coverage had its lapses, too. 

The secondary was already in flux without cornerback Marco Wilson and Robert Alford entering this game. Kevin Peterson was evaluated for a concussion early and never went back in after the first quarter. 

There were several costly miscommunications among the Cardinals defense on Sunday.

Seattle's first touchdown was a 43-yard catch by receiver Tyler Lockett. He found uncovered ground deep down the right side between cornerback Breon Borders and safety Jalen Thompson. 

"I think it was miscommunication or missed assignment that allowed him to be that open," Kingsbury said. "I think we had him in the third, and for a reason he didn’t get there.”

Borders came in for Peterson. Sunday was his first game action with the Cardinals, and he struggled to defend Lockett, one of the most challenging receivers to guard in the NFL. Lockett had five grabs for 98 yards and two touchdowns. 

Seattle's first touchdown of the second half, a 25-yard catch by receiver Freddie Swain, was also wide open. 

Swain lined up on the outside next to receiver DK Metcalf. When the ball was snapped, Swain turned to quarterback Russell Wilson like it was a screen. 

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Two Cardinals defenders followed Metcalf on a crosser, leaving Swain alone to dart down the sideline and catch Wilson's pass for an easy score. (65)

"I think it's just little stuff, details," Thompson said postgame. "Guys not being in the right place, guys just not doing their job. So we've got to come out next week and we've got to make those little adjustments and fix everything."

Many of Seattle's downfield plays came on third down. 

The Seahawks were 8-for-12 on third downs overall, and four of those conversions were on third-and-8 or longer. 

Sunday was a complementary performance from the Cardinals in some ways. 

Both sides of the ball made enough plays to put the team in position to compete, but neither came through in key moments. 

The defense first put Arizona on the board. Edge rusher Chandler Jones stripped Wilson and Allen returned the fumble for a touchdown on the second play from scrimmage. (64)

Thompson intercepted Wilson in the third quarter and returned it to the Seattle goal line, which set up a touchdown. 

The Cardinals led 24-17 at that point, but Seattle scored touchdowns on three straight series afterward, and Arizona was held to two field goals. 

“You’ve got to get back up," Kingsbury said. "It’s a new season. Not the outcome we wanted. You’ve got to give Seattle a lot of credit."

The Cardinals will face the Los Angeles Rams in the playoffs next week. That's a team they've see twice this year and split wins with. 

The Rams hurt the Cardinals on big plays in a Week 14 win for LA 30-23.

Los Angeles had eight plays go for 17 or more yards that night. 

Beating the Rams could come down to getting off the field on third downs and continuing to take the ball away. 

Third-down defense had been a strong area for Arizona all year, as it entered Week 18 fifth in opponent third-down conversion percentage. 

It needs to continue being a strength in the playoffs, despite Sunday's failures.