After another rousing intro song by Carrie Underwood (because, let's face it, who doesn't love a good old fashioned country-pop song to get you all pumped up to watch football?), the Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks took the field and played the longest game ever... okay, not really. But man was that a loooong game. Ultimately the Cardinals held on to win a wild one, 39-29. Here's the full recap.
A quick 3-and-out on the opening possession by the Cardinals was followed by a short possession by the Seahawks. The second possession for Arizona took about 8 minutes off the clock as the offense marched down the field methodically. A balanced rushing and passing attack, highlighted by some nice plays by Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington and some great footwork by Carson Palmer to avoid pressure and make plays to keep the drive alive. A defensive holding penalty extended the drive and another rollout by Palmer allowed him to hit Ellington heading down the right sideline to set up a 1st and goal. Then two straight incomplete passes set up a 3rd and goal that saw Palmer force a ball into double coverage, looking for Michael Floyd over the middle, that was picked off in the end zone by Earl Thomas, ending the drive. The Cards put pressure on Wilson in the end zone and he got away with what looked like intentional grounding as his attempt to throw the ball away didn't appear to get back to the line of scrimmage. Under pressure again, a scrambling Wilson appeared to fumble with Arizona recovering, but the play was ruled an incomplete pass, forcing Seattle to punt. The ensuing Cardinal drive would spill over into the 2nd quarter.
TAKEAWAYS: Palmer was surprisingly mobile on a few plays, stepping up in the pocket and scrambling when needed to avoid pressure and make throws on the run, but his tendency to force balls into coverage caused a turnover that killed a great drive and left the game scoreless after the first quarter.
The points started to pile up after a scoreless 1st frame, but the period was dominated by Arizona. The Cardinals possessed the ball for most of the first half and racked up 22 points in the 2nd quarter, the first 3 coming on a 33-yd field goal by Chandler Catanzaro to cap off the drive that carried over from the first quarter. Larry Fitzgerald grabbed his fifth catch of the half to put the ball on the 12-yd line, but two bad plays by Chris Johnson stalled the drive and Arizona settled for the three points. The Cards then went up 5-0 when Russell Wilson fumbled the ball into the end zone, where he was tackled immediately as he recovered the ball. Following the safety the Cards received the ball and seemed to strike quickly with a big play downfield to Michael Floyd, but an illegal formation penalty nullified the play. After a scary neck injury to Mike Iupati, Palmer hit Floyd for a 27-yd touchdown on a blown coverage by Richard Sherman to put Arizona up 12-0.
Seattle's ensuing possession ended quickly as Tyrann Mathieu nearly intercepted Russell Wilson on a 3rd down play, forcing a punt. After a 24-yd return by Peterson set up a short field, Palmer hit Floyd down the left sideline for a 34-yd touchdown, Floyd's 2nd of the game and 5th of the season. Floyd was initially ruled out of bounds at the 1-yd line, but an official review led to a reversal of the call as replays showed he clearly stayed in bounds as his left leg hit the pylon and the ball broke the plane for the TD to put the Cards up 19-0. The ensuing Seattle possession saw the Seahawks put together their first good drive of the night. A classic Russell Wilson scramble was followed up by a deep pass to Paul Richardson, who beat Jerraud Powers on the play. Wilson then hit Jimmy Graham in the end zone, but Tony Jefferson stripped the ball away as Graham was going to the ground, forcing the incompletion. Wilson then looked for Graham again in the end zone, and Mathieu was flagged for pass interference, putting the ball on the 1-yd line. Tukuafu punched it in to make it 19-7 Cardinals.
The Cardinals would have the final possession of the half with 2 minutes remaining. Working their 2-minute offense, the Cardinals moved quickly down the field with a combination of passes to Floyd and Fitz and runs by Ellington to set Catanzaro up for a 43-yd field goal. Entering halftime the Cardinals had the lead 22-7, and seemingly all of the momentum.
TAKEAWAYS: Michael Floyd is good, especially in Seattle. He's too big, strong and fast for the Seattle corners. A considerable amount of time was spent discussing the perpetually confusing rules on what is a catch and what is an incomplete pass and what is a fumble after Darren Fells fumbled/dropped a ball after catching/not catching it. Chris Collinsworth was adamant that the rules be more clearly defined next season.
HALFTIME: Cards offensive line handling the Seattle pass rush well. First half controlled by Cardinals with balanced attack, big plays to Michael Floyd. 235 yds by Palmer in 1st half, 2 TDs to Michael Floyd. Floyd is the MVP of the half, but Fitz quietly having a big game.
Can you say momentum swing? On the first play of the 3rd quarter Beast Mode seemingly carried the entire Cardinals defense on his back for a big run. Another big run by Thomas Rawls had Seattle at midfield after just two plays. A Russell Wilson scramble gave him space to float a pass downfield to Jimmy Graham that put the Seahawks on the 20-yard line and had the Arizona defense looking flat to start the 2nd half. Fortunately they were able to hold the Seahawks to a field goal to make it 22-10. Arizona would answer with a field goal of their own shortly after to go up 25-10, but you could feel the momentum shifting to Seattle as their defense started to come to life and the crowd, in typical 12th man fashion, started to get louder and louder.
Seattle's next possession saw Doug Baldwin make one of his many big plays on the night, putting the ball in AZ territory. The Cardinals got pressure on Wilson and he seemed to fumble again, but the officials ruled that his forward progress had been stopped. On the same play Patrick Peterson was flagged for defensive holding, giving Seattle an automatic first down. On the next play, Wilson found a wide open Baldwin for the TD after Baldwin burned Jerraud Powers. 3 plays, 69 yds, touchdown in under two minutes. 25-17 Cards. At this point Seattle had all the momentum and it was starting to feel like one of those games that would see the Cardinals implode and get blown out.
TAKEAWAYS: This was the point in the game when things really got scary for the Cardinals. You could just feel the game going Seattle's way, and their defense was teeing off on Carson Palmer. Chris Johnson was helping to pick up the blitz, but too many free-runners were coming at Palmer from the inside gaps and at times off the edge. This was also when the game began to feel really long. Lots of penalties and challenges just slowed everything down, which seemed to work in Seattle's favor, even though Arizona won 2 of 3 challenges.
A subsequent 3-and-out by the Cards didn't help, but they were able to force a punt on Seattle's next possession to get the ball right back. Then the turnover bug bit again, as Carson Palmer was under pressure and fumbled the ball after a hit by Cliff Avril. KJ Wright recovered and scored, but a review of the play revealed that Palmer had contacted Wright, causing him to fall before rolling into the end zone, so Seattle got the ball on the 3-yd line. Then they punched it right in, giving the ball to Beast Mode like they should have done in the Super Bowl. Trailing 25-23 Seattle opted to try for the 2-point conversion and failed on a pass play. Again, should have gone to Beast Mode.
On the Cardinals next possession it was clear that the Seattle defense was trying to exploit Arizona's weakened offensive line, bringing pressure play after play. Chris Johnson picked up a few nice free-runners, but KJ Wright got to Palmer and forced another fumble, this time returned by Bobby Wager for a touchdown. Seattle would go for two again and fail on another pass play. 29-25 Seattle at this point, extending their NFL record to 57 consecutive games in which they have held a lead at some point. Beast Mode, anyone?
On the ensuing possession things looked worrisome for the Cardinals. They were struggling to run the ball with Iupati out, and the offensive line was having trouble keeping Seattle blitzers away from Palmer. Down by 4 in the 4th quarter, their QB having fumbled the ball away on two straight possessions, things were looking bleak. But a nice screen play to Fitz and another pass to Floyd had the Cardinals quickly at midfield. Floyd was injured on the play and would not return, but never fear, Jaron Brown is here!
On his first target, Jaron snatched and tipped ball out of the air that surely would have been intercepted if not for the heady play. Under pressure again, Palmer barely got a pass off downfield. It was incomplete, but an illegal contact flag gave the Cardinals an automatic 1st down and extended the drive. The ever nimble Palmer then avoided pressure and rolled left, hitting Jaron Brown again for a 1st down. Palmer then found Jermaine Gresham in the back of the end zone for a TD, giving the Cardinals the lead, and momentum again, 32-29.
With the lead in their hands, the Cardinals needed their defense to step up and secure the victory. This was a game the Cardinals teams of old would have found a way to lose, so when Doug Baldwin made two more huge plays it seemed like the game would go the way the usually do in Seattle, with the Seahawks finding a way to beat the Cardinals, mostly based on Russell Wilson's uncanny ability to escape every sack and scramble long enough to find an open receiver or run himself for a big gain. But then, while in the grasp of the defender, Wilson launched a ball so far out of bounds the officials had no choice but to flag him for intentional grounding. Replay would reveal his was still in the box, but barely. On 3rd and 16 Wilson threw a laser down the field that was
intercepted dropped by Mathieu, cementing his fate as a DB that will never play wide receiver. Punt, Seattle.
With the ball back in their possession an about 6 minutes to go it was time to milk the clock. Two runs by Chris Johnson set up a 3rd and 3 that saw Palmer target Jaron Brown yet again and Brown made a HUGE catch for the 1st down. Andre Ellington made an equally HUGE block on the play, picking up a blitzer to give Palmer time to make the throw. Another nice blitz pickup on a pass to Fitz revealed that the Cardinals were finding a way to keep Seattle's rushers away from Palmer long enough for him to make plays. With time, Carson is able to play the QB position at an MVP level, and he did it in this game. Seattle was now forced to start taking timeouts before the 2-minute warning in hopes of extending the game. But it wouldn't matter because on a 3rd and 4 Andre Ellington would break free down the left sideline for one of the biggest touchdowns in Cardinals history, putting Arizona up 39-29 with 1:58 to go.
Russell Wilson would find a way to scramble around some more and get Seattle in range for a FG, making it 39-32, but they would fail to recover the ensuing onside kick as Fitz secured the ball in his massive mitts and went to the ground. Victory formation, game over.
Final score: Cardinals 39, Seahawks 32
TAKEAWAYS: The ability to pick up the blitz after the two Palmer fumbles changed the game. Carson was getting swarmed and laying the ball on the carpet, but with just a little more time he was able to make big plays and open things up for the huge Ellington run that sealed the deal. Palmer was huge, Floyd was huge, Fitz was quietly huge, Chris Johnson didn't put up huge numbers, but made some huge blocks to save Palmer, but the X-factors were Jaron Brown and Andre Ellington. Their fresh legs and big plays in the 4th quarter were the difference in a close game. Credit to the coaching staff for making adjustments and using the right rotations to keep the Cardinals offense explosive against the Legion of Boom.