According to Arizona Cardinals' head coach Bruce Arians, it was 25 minutes of football that cost his team a shot at a playoff berth in 2016.
The day after the regular season concluded, Arians held a press conference on a wide range of topics including the factors that prevented the Cardinals from achieving the success they believed was destined at the outset of the year.
"Obviously you never have the same team back," Arians said after spending the morning bidding farewell to the players that made up the Cardinals' roster this season. "This team was extremely fun to coach because they came to work everyday, never questioned their effort, their intensity in which we practiced and prepared, we just didn't play well enough in five ballgames, the last five minutes of those games, that stopped us from playing the rest of this tournament."
Though Arians didn't specifically reference which five games he referred to, it's likely the Cardinals' head coach was disappointed with the manner in which his team closed contests against New England, Los Angeles, Seattle, Miami and New Orleans. Of course, Arians also could have been referring to a pair of other games --road losses in Minnesota and Carolina-- in which the Cardinals efforts proved too little too late.
"We'll go back, we'll research why we didn't play well in those five minutes that cost us games that took us out of the playoffs but that'll be the research we'll do as a coaching staff," Arians said. "Did we ask them to do things we couldn't do, too much, why we weren't successful? Because we had been successful for two or three years in those scenarios."
At 7-8-1, the Cardinals were two victories shy of missing the postseason in a highly competitive conference, and with five-to-seven missed opportunities that jump out immediately, Arians suggested the franchise wouldn't need a significant overhaul this offseason.
Instead, Arians suggested the Cardinals have all the pieces in place to improve their overall record in 2017, and said with a strong core of the roster already under contract, he expects the team to embrace the same expectations heading into next season.
"We'll get those questions answered in the near future, but I think the core is here and there's no doubt that we had high expectations coming into this season with the roster that we had, those expectations will never change," Arians said. "We will set our goals to win a championship next year like we always do."
Arians' analysis of the Cardinals' season and the current state of their roster implies that Arizona won't make significant splashes via free agency or trades this offseason, and also indicates that many of the players heading into free agency are players Arians would like to see back in red and white next season.
With nearly half of the team's defensive starters including Calais Campbell, Tony Jefferson, D.J. Swearinger, Kevin Minter and Chandler Jones headed for free agency, Arians is hopeful general manager Steve Keim will be able to re-sign the assets the team needs to once again compete for a division title in 2017.
"Got all the faith in the world in Steve Keim, that we'll have a heck of a roster, that we'll start building soon, re-signing guys hopefully getting some guys under contract that we want back and that we'll move on," Arians said.
Jones is one player Arians reportedly said will assuredly return in 2017, as Arians said the Cardinals hope to sign him to a long-term extension this offseason. If the two sides can't come to an agreement, Arians said the Cardinals will use the franchise tag to secure Jones for at least one more season.
Another player who the Cardinals will monitor closely in the coming weeks is franchise icon Larry Fitzgerald, who will mull retirement over the course of the next month. Arians said he's crossing his fingers that Fitzgerald will want to play one additional season, but that he won't interfere with or try to influence's Fitzgerald's decision.
"Does he (Fitzgerald) want to continue to be the warrior that he is? How his body feels, does he want to train and do all of those things to come back and try to get that championship," Arians said. "Obviously my fingers are crossed that he does, but there's nothing that I can do to be a part of that decision."
Even though Arizona fell short of expectations in 2016, Arians' first postseason comments made it clear he believes keeping the core of the Cardinals' roster intact is essential if the team hopes to rebound next season.null