Cards Blow Biggest Game Since 2000

The Cardinals find themselves in strange circumstances: playing meaningful December games. That hasn't happened since 2000 when the Cardinals last were .500 in the final month of the season.

Last Sunday's loss to Seattle was an obvious setback. The victory gave the Seahawks their fourth straight division title, and the loss means the Cardinals likely will have to win their final three games to have a shot at the wild-card.

It could happen, because the Cardinals finish up at New Orleans and then have home games against Atlanta and St. Louis.

The Seattle game was "by far the most important one I've played in (as a Cardinal)," said quarterback Kurt Warner, who joined the team in 2004. "We've never really been competing for anything 12 games in. It's got to be No. 1 in the three years I've been here as far as importance."

That's what made Warner's performance so disappointing. The Cardinals are playing under a new coach, Ken Whisenhunt, and in a new system, and their immaturity in playing together is evident.

They have a hard time overcoming mistakes, and Warner has made too many throughout the season. He had a career-high five interceptions against the Seahawks, but only two of them really mattered.

The first came on the first series when the Cardinals had moved crisply into Seattle territory. The other one came in the third quarter after the Cardinals had recovered an onside kick and could have moved to within six points.

"I am very frustrated, very disappointed," Warner said. "But I will take this one on my shoulders and get back to work."

As bad as it looked, the Seattle loss wasn't devastating for the Cardinals. They had lost four straight in Seattle entering that game, so their chances weren't great to begin with.

That loss, however, gives them no margin for error over the final three weeks. And although their last games are all against teams with losing records, the Cardinals face some challenges.

They are as banged up as they've been all season. Receiver Anquan Boldin didn't play Sunday at Seattle after suffering a dislocated toe against Cleveland a week ago. Receiver Larry Fitzgerald played after missing the Browns game because of a groin strain, but he's not 100 percent.

Tight end Leonard Pope suffered a dislocated right ankle and a possible fracture and is out for the season.

Without those receivers, the Cardinals offense is severely limited. The rushing game isn't good enough to carry the team, and after No. 3 receiver Bryant Johnson, there is little depth at that spot.

Rookie Ben Patrick and Troy Bienemann, a first-year player, are Pope's backups.

To win these final three weeks, even against mediocre to bad teams, the Cardinals must play clean and efficient games. But they've failed to do that all year, and it's probably unrealistic to expect it to happen in mid-December.

But the club has been resilient, and what the Cardinals lack in efficiency, they sometimes make up for in resiliency. Under Whisenhunt, the Cardinals don't quit, and they've shown a propensity to play well when things are not going well for them.

"It makes it a scenario that we almost have to win (out)," Whisenhunt said of his team's playoff hopes. "You never know that for a fact, but we have to win out to have a chance. That's where our focus is right now."

PLAYER NOTES

--TE Leonard Pope suffered a dislocated right ankle and a possible fracture and is out for the year. Ben Patrick will assume the starting job, and Troy Bienemann will back him up.

--WR Larry Fitzgerald played last week despite soreness caused by a strained groin. Fitzgerald had a hard time pushing off with his left leg and that made it difficult for him to beat press coverage.

--WR Anquan Boldin likely will be a question mark again this week. He didn't play against Seattle because of a dislocated toe suffered the week before.

--WR Jerheme Urban caught six passes for 123 yards and a touchdown. But it wasn't a smooth effort. He dropped one pass, and his touchdown came after the ball clanked off his facemask, went into the air and into his arms.

--OT Levi Brown struggled to block defensive end Patrick Kerney all afternoon. Kerney finished with three sacks, two of which came against Brown. He pressured Kurt Warner numerous other times.


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