In what has become the premier rivalry in the NFC West, the Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks needed a field goal to separate them. Arizona has won three of four in Seattle since head coach Bruce Arians arrived in 2013. The Seahawks needed to win to stay alive for the playoffs while the Cardinals were looking to play spoiler. Fitting then that the Cardinals pulled out the victory in Seattle after a missed field goal.
The first half started fast for Arizona. They took the opening kickoff and drove down the field before scoring on an acrobatic Jaron Brown catch for a touchdown. Drew Stanton and the offense held the ball for nearly half the quarter as they used a balance attack to get the early lead. The ensuing kickoff was returned 99 yards by Seahawks receiver Tyler Lockett to tie the game. Arizona used a D.J. Foster kickoff return to midfield to get a Phil Dawson field goal. Before the Seattle offense had taken the field, the score was already 10-7 in favor of the Cardinals.
Russell Wilson and the offense struggled in the first half. The Cardinals played primarily zone coverage and often rushed just four defenders on passing plays. Wilson ran around and struggled to find open receivers while Chandler Jones was able to get a sack in the first half. The Arizona offense leaned heavily on the run game to a tune of more than 50 yards rushing in the first 30 minutes. Kerwynn Williams led the offense in the first half with 64 yards in the first half on 17 carries. By comparison, Seattle’s leading rusher at the half was Wilson, with nine yards on three carries.
The third quarter was different for both teams early as the Seahawks drove 80 yards to get a touchdown pass from Wilson to Doug Baldwin. The Seahawks converted on a 4th and six on the drive before cashing in with a touchdown. Arizona answered with a 53 yard field goal to answer. The 23-14 lead would not last long as Seattle added a Blair Walsh field goal then a touchdown to make it 24-23 in favor of the home team. Wilson was the star on the scoring drive as he broke containment on a read option and ran into Arizona territory.
In the end it came down to the kickers. Arizona mustered enough offense to take the lead on a 42 yard kick by Dawson with less than three minutes remaining. Seattle moved quickly into Arizona territory and looked to be closing in on a game winning score. However, the offense became conservative once they reached the 30 yard line where Walsh missed a kick to take the lead. Arizona took over and took a knee to run out the clock. It was a fitting end to a tumultuous season for Arizona, finishing the year at 8-8.
Most Valuable Player – Larry Fitzgerald
If today was the last game in a Cardinals uniform for Fitzgerald, the future Hall of Fame receiver went out with another great performance. Fitzgerald opened the game for the Cardinals looking like a man on a mission. Eight catches for 55 tough yards were the bounty earned by Fitzgerald in the first half. Like the rest of the offense Fitzgerald went quite after half time. The veteran contributed with great blocking as the offense ran for more than 100 yards against Seattle.
Least Valuable Player – A.Q. Shipley
Shipley is an average center on a good day. Against Seattle, Shipley struggled with the size and athleticism of the defensive line. There were multiple occasions where the veteran center was pushed back a few yards and prevented Arizona running backs from getting started in the backfield. While he hasn’t been the worst lineman this season, his inconsistent play on Sunday put Arizona and the offense in tough spots to overcome.
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In the game’s final minute Arizona clung to a two point lead. Seattle had gotten past midfield and were looking destined to get the go ahead score in the closing seconds. The Arizona defense did their job by keeping the Seahawks right around fringe field goal range. Seattle looked content to run the clock out for a long field. Fortunately for the Cardinals the Seahawks do not have the best of luck with last second kicks. Walsh missed wide right and the Cardinals drained the last seconds on the clock.
What it Means
Seattle had been eliminated from the playoffs with a few minutes left to go in the game. Both teams were playing for pride by that point. Arizona wanted to end the season on a high note, and possibly send their coach off into retirement with a victory. In the end the Cardinals did just enough to get the win.
What Happens Next
In his post game press conference Arians did not answer directly if he had coached his last game. Arians’ voiced cracked slightly as he spoke about how difficult it is to walk away from a team that had won three of their last four. He stated he would not drag out the decision and would let everyone know what he had decided soon. Fitzgerald did not give any indication on his decision. The receiver stated he would take time this summer to vacation and think about his future. Interesting days are ahead of the Cardinals as they move into the off-season. For Sunday they could at least celebrate a hard-fought victory.