The Arizona Cardinals had their season on the line. Fourth quarter, fourth down, trailing by five points, and the ball heading towards the greatest player in Cardinals history, Larry Fitzgerald. The future Hall of Famer planted on his right foot, twisted back over his right shoulder 180 degrees, and reached for the Blaine Gabbert throw. Fitzgerald briefly bobbled the football before former teammate D.J. Swearinger swatted it to the ground. Just like that, the game and the team’s postseason hopes, ended in disappointment. It was a disappointing end to a game in which the Cardinals should have won handily.
Things started poorly for Arizona as Gabbert was hit and the ball jarred loose just seconds into the game. The pressure came up the middle as the left side of the line failed to block anyone at the snap. Kirk Cousins led Washington into the end zone on a short play action pass to Jamison Crowder to give his team the early lead. From there the Cardinals defense settled in. Chandler Jones, who added a sack to make it 15 total for the year, and the rest of the front seven controlled the line of scrimmage and effectively stuffed the Washington run game. The return of defensive tackle Corey Peters was felt early as Washington was forced to push their runs outside the tackles.
The Cardinals offense found the scoreboard with a Phil Dawson field goal from 40 yards out to end the first quarter scoring. Running back Kapri Bibbs added another touchdown early in the second quarter to add to Washington’s lead. Two more Dawson field goals ended the first half with Washington ahead 14-9. The offense moved the ball during the first half but could not put the ball in the end zone. Dropped passes, poor blocking, and bad throws prevented touchdowns.
The second half started with a short kickoff by Dawson which landed between the returner and blockers. The live ball was recovered by Arizona safety Budda Baker. Gabbert and the offense quickly went three and out before Dawson kicked his fourth field goal of the day. Washington used two plays of over 20 yards on the next drive before a Tramon Williams near interception led to a Dustin Hopkins field goal to make it 17-12. The team’s traded field goals before Arizona took over with two timeouts and two minutes left in the game.
The final drive saw Gabbert find open receivers to move downfield. A defensive penalty made it first and ten at the Washington 21 yard line. Four times the Cardinals tried to move the ball and all four times they failed. The final time on fourth down. Washington took a knee and time expired. The Arizona defense held on for 60 minutes and tried desperately to give the offense the field position to turn the game. Instead it was another inconsistent performance and another Arizona loss.
Most Valuable Player – Phil Dawson
The veteran kicker nailed five out of five field goal attempts and was the lone source of scoring for an inept Arizona offense. It was also his second half kickoff which dropped nicely in front of the Washington returned that was recovered by the Cardinals. That resulted in a Dawson field goal. Dawson has been the only person to score for Arizona in two straight games, tallying 27 points in that time.
Least Valuable Player – Blaine Gabbert
This could go to the offense as a whole but someone needs to get the blame. Gabbert completed 16 of 41 pass attempts for 189 yards and an awful interception in the red zone. The former 10th overall pick was pressured throughout the game as the offensive line failed to provide even a brief obstacle for the Washington pass rush. Gabbert was often inaccurate and late on throws. When the ball was there on time and on the mark, Arizona receivers forgot how to hold on to the football. Ultimately it comes down to the quarterback and Gabbert showed why he is not a serious contender for the 2018 starting job.
In a game filled with missed opportunities, perhaps none was bigger than the third down drop by tight end Troy Niklas near the end of the game. On the play, the tight end ran down the seam covered by a linebacker. Gabbert put the ball high where only his tight end could make the play. Niklas got both hands on the football as he made the jump but could never get full control of the football as he went to the ground. The tight end bobbled the ball and it fell to the ground to create the fourth down scenario which effectively ended the game. A catch gives Arizona a first and goal inside the five yard line with a timeout and at least 10 seconds left.
What the Loss Means
Put simply, the Cardinals needed to win their last four games and hope some teams ahead of them lost. The latter part of the equation has happened, although the Cardinals did not keep up their end of the bargain. The loss ends any playoff chances and makes the last two games meaningless outside of pride and draft position.
What Happens Next
The Cardinals return home for a Christmas Eve game against the New York Giants before traveling to Seattle for the final game of the season against the Seahawks. Arizona is playing for pride and draft position at this point as are the Giants. The Cardinals sit just outside of the top 10 in draft order and would need wins by the Bengals and Texans to jump any higher. Also, Jones is two sacks away from the team’s single season record, currently held by Simeon Rice who tallied 16.5 in 1999.
The Cardinals lost the game on Sunday as well as the possibility of a postseason. The defense fought while the offense stumbled. It was a typical showing for this year’s team, one of inconsistency and promise, ending in frustration for everyone involved.
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