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The Cardinals have accepted reality

Head coach Bruce Arians confronts his team with the reality that they will not make the playoffs, following a 13-3 season one year ago

NFL: Washington Redskins at Arizona Cardinals Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Two weeks ago, after a 38-19 defeat to the Atlanta Falcons left the Cardinals at 4-6-1, the team came to the realization that they would need to win out if they had any chance of making the playoffs. This was certainly a far cry from the Cardinals team that went 13-3 last season, advancing to the NFC Championship Game, but the team still had hope. That hope was buoyed by a 31-23 win over the Washington Redskins that saw Carson Palmer throw for 300 yards and three touchdowns. Yes, they were riding high coming into Miami before all the things that have plagued them all season came crashing down in one game. The end result, a 26-23 defeat that dropped them to 5-7-1 and all but mathematically eliminated them from playoff contention.

Shortly after the rain-soaked team entered the locker room, Head Coach Bruce Arians didn’t hold back in his assessment of the reality the team now faced, missing the playoffs a year after coming so close to playing for a World Championship. Palmer said the reality was hard to hear and that it really wasn’t settling in, but whether he wants to hear it or even believe it, the competitive portion of the 2016 season for the Cardinals has ended.

You don’t have to look far to figure out where things went wrong because there really is only one place to point the finger, Arizona’s offense. A year after having the best offense in the league, averaging more than 408 yards per game, the Cardinals have taken a step back, dropping to ninth overall, averaging just over 363 yards per game, but these numbers alone don’t tell the whole story. Palmer threw for almost 4,700 yards last season, with 35 touchdowns and only 11 interceptions. He was sacked just 25 times. He’s already thrown 13 picks this year and been sacked 37 times, while also facing questions about the possible decline of his arm strength.

All of that has led to a far less lethal Cardinals passing attack. There haven’t been enough big plays like the ones J.J. Nelson provided in the loss to the Dolphins. The Cardinals have also been hurt by the loss of wide receiver John Brown, who is dealing with the effects of carrying the sickle cell trait, and a very inconsistent season by wide receiver Michael Floyd, who appears to have only made things worse for himself with a DUI arrest early Monday morning.

The end result of it all is a team that had two one-thousand yard receivers last season (with Floyd just missing the mark) and three receivers who caught at least 50 passes, reduced to the 2016 version that has seen only the ageless Larry Fitzgerald maintain his pace from a year ago (91-892-5) The Cardinals sputtering offense has also wasted a terrific performance by their defense. Ranked fifth last year (giving up 321.7 yards per game) the unit has improved this season, rising to number two in the league, giving up 298.5 yards per game.

As the season draws to a close, the Cardinals are left to wonder what could’ve been in an NFC that has seen only one team, the 11-2 Dallas Cowboys, pull away from the pack. The only thing certain now, other than where the team will spend the postseason, is that they have more questions than answers as they enter the offseason.