If the NFL was a broken record, the 2016 version of the Arizona Cardinals would be the track where the record skips and repeats.
In nearly every game this season, the Cardinals' weaknesses have been on display in a similar manner, as the same repeated mistakes at costly times have proven to be Arizona's downfall.
In the Cardinals' 48-41 loss to the New Orleans Saints Sunday, a slow start, timely offensive turnovers, a slew of defensive miscues and special teams woes came back to haunt Arizona yet again.
Though New Orleans' defense didn't have much of an answer for Arizona's offense throughout Sunday's contest, the Cardinals gave the Saints all the opportunities they needed to secure a victory.
In the first quarter, the typically sure-handed Larry Fitzgerald fumbled a ball when trying to make something out of nothing on a short reception, and the turnover cost Arizona seven points.
In the fourth quarter, trailing 41-34, wide receiver Brittan Golden was stripped of the ball at the Cardinals' 30-yard line, and New Orleans recovered with an opportunity to ice the game.
The Saints wasted little time doing so, as running back Tim Hightower walked into the end zone less than 90 seconds after Golden's fumble to put New Orleans up by two touchdowns with under three and a half minutes to play.
For much of the year, the Cardinals' leadership, namely head coach Bruce Arians, quarterback Carson Palmer and Fitzgerald have said the only way Arizona can lose is through self-inflicted wounds, and Sunday, the Cardinals beat themselves for the eighth time this year.
One of the main themes of the Cardinals' self-inflicted wounds this season has been Arizona's disastrous punt unit, but the team took steps to address those issues this week.
After releasing veteran punter Drew Butler and signing Matt Wile off the practice squad earlier in the week, the Cardinals believed their punt unit would make improvements this week, but on Sunday any such improvements were irrelevant as it was the team's field goal units that contributed to Arizona's demise.
Kicker Chandler Catanzaro missed a 55-yard field goal in the first half and followed that up with his fourth extra point miss of the season, which took four potential points off the board for the Cardinals.
In the second half, after Arizona's defense stopped New Orleans deep in Cardinals' territory, an offside penalty on Justin Bethel on the Saints' field goal attempt gave New Orleans a fresh set of downs. The Saints would need just one down to capitalize on the critical error from Bethel, as New Orleans scored a touchdown on the ensuing play to pin four additional points on Arizona's special teams miscues.
Arizona could have used those eight points, especially in a contest that turned into a shootout, but instead, the Cardinals left them on the field in the same manner they have throughout the season.
Even with all of those miscues, though, the Cardinals still had an opportunity to climb back into the game late, in the same fashion they did last week in a 26-23 loss against Miami. But much like last week's loss, Arizona couldn't get out of its own way during the game's most critical junctures.
Following Golden's fourth quarter fumble, linebacker Kevin Minter sacked Saints' quarterback Drew Brees on a play that would have backed New Orleans up out of field goal range. However, during Minter's sack, fellow linebacker Sio Moore was called for a questionable personal foul penalty that pushed the Saints forward 15 extra yards and helped set up the score that put New Orleans ahead by two scores.
Arizona couldn't recover from the two-score deficit, as the Cardinals' defense caved in against the Saints' offense one final time after a failed onside kick gave New Orleans the ball with just over two minutes to play.
Knowing a first down could ice the game, the Saints didn't apply conventional logic to their final series, but they didn't need to, knowing Brees and company had an advantage through the air that the Cardinals simply couldn't stop.
On third down and four inside of two minutes, New Orleans elected to pass instead of run, and Brees found tight end Colby Fleener for a first down to end the Cardinals' hopes of earning a comeback victory, and end the team's chances of making the playoffs for the third straight year.
The final play was fitting on Sunday, as Arizona couldn't contain Brees, allowing him to become the first opposing quarterback to throw for 300 yards against the team this season.
On Sunday, the Saints' offensive stars were better than the Cardinals' defensive stars, and that became obvious early on in the game. In the second quarter, Brees found wide receiver Brandin Cooks for a 66-yard touchdown in which Cooks took the top off of Arizona's secondary and exposed safety D.J. Swearinger in coverage.
On the ensuing Saints' possession, Cooks came across the middle on a short crossing route, and torched safety Tyrann Mathieu who was defending Cooks from the slot. Cooks caught Brees' pass five yards beyond the line of scrimmage, turned the corner and raced the rest of the way untouched on a 44-yard touchdown that gave the Saints a 24-13 advantage.
The two touchdowns Cooks produced provided New Orleans with over 100 yards of passing offense, but Brees would add more than 250 additional yards as he connected with Willie Snead, Michael Thomas and running back Tavaris Cadet for a total of 20 completions among the trio.
With cornerback Patrick Peterson on one side of the field, the Cardinals have typically been able to take away an opponent's best receiver. The issue for the Cardinals' defensive backfield has been shutting down a team's secondary threats, and on Sunday, Arizona had no hope of stopping the Saints' weapons.
Once again, the biggest bright spot for Arizona on Sunday was the play of running back David Johnson, who accounted for over 100 yards from scrimmage for an NFL record 14th consecutive game. Johnson's streak has spanned the entire regular season, but on a weekly basis, the rest of his teammates have been unable to match his level of play.
While Johnson still has a chance to become just the third player in NFL history to post 1,000 rushing yards and 1,000 receiving yards in the same season, the Cardinals haven't been able to capitalize on a season that would merit MVP consideration if not for the Cardinals' rough record.
At 5-8-1, the Cardinals have now lost as many games in 2016 as the franchise lost in the 2014 and 2015 seasons combined.
An Arizona team that began the season with an "All or Nothing" mindset has now watched as the 2016 campaign continues its slow decay toward the "nothing" end of the spectrum, a result enabled by devastating self-inflicted wounds committed on a weekly basis.null