SEATTLE — Winning in the NFL isn’t easy, but for the Arizona Cardinals, it looked nearly impossible for much of Sunday afternoon at Lumen Field.
It’s hard to win when you end possessions in the opponent’s territory with something other than scores. The Cardinals did that four times, three on failed gambles on fourth down and once on fumble.
It’s hard to win when special teams score the only touchdown.
It’s hard to win when your kicker is unreliable, then brought back for another week to prove again he’s unreliable.
The result was a 19-9 loss to the Seattle Seahawks in a game that a team with a mediocre offense would have won.
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The Cardinals (2-4) do not that have that, and it’s too easy to blame receiver DeAndre Hopkins’ six-game suspension for it. He returns for Thursday night’s game against the Saints, and if Hopkins happens to resuscitate this offense, he deserves more than the $27 million or so average he’s making (minus suspended) time.
The issues run deeper than the absence of one player. Or a couple of injuries on the offensive line.
I guess it’s fair to say the Seattle defense played well, but the Cardinals offense could not get out of its own way the entire afternoon. Negative plays ruined promising drives. So did the fourth-down failures. So did quarterback Kyler Murray losing a fumble after running for a first down in Seattle territory in the second half.
It was a stark contrast to how the Cardinals defense played. On the road, it bottled up what’s been one of the NFL’s best offenses.
Oddly, the Cardinals offense looked fine to the start the game, with Murray running for 42-yards on the third play and completing a pass to receiver Rondale Moore for 26 yards on the sixth.
They made it to the Seahawks 3, where they had first-and-goal. That’s where their troubles began. A run by Murray lost four yards, establishing a theme for the day. It seemed every time the Cardinals were about to find a rhythm, a negative run, a sack or an incomplete pass prevented it.
The Cardinals did score in the first quarter for the first time this year, but 24-yard field goals after having a first-and-goal at the 3 are no reasons for celebration.
Understandably antsy for a touchdown, coach Kliff Kingsbury is willing to become an even bigger gambler than usual on fourth down. On their second possession, the Cardinals moved 46 yards to the Seattle 19, but another run for minus yardage doomed them. On fourth-and-4, Kingsbury elected to go for it, but a pass from Murray to receiver Rondale Moore that should have been completed wasn’t.
The pass was a little short, but it appeared Moore could have made the catch. It was one play, but it was indicative of the Cardinals shortcomings on offense through six games. They have made plays here and there, but rarely when they were needed the most.
Kingsbury gambled again on the Cardinals first possession of the second. On fourth-and-2 from the Seattle 27, the Cardinals tried to pass but Murray was flushed from the pocket and tried to a lob to A.J. Green in the end zone. It was incomplete.
And Kingsbury did it again in the fourth quarter. Down 19-9, facing fourth-and-2 at the Seattle 23, Murray was sacked after the Cardinals called a pass play that him dropping back 10 yards.
There will be critics of Kingsbury’s risk intolerance because had he chosen to kick, and had Matt Ammendola made all three, the game might have turned out differently.
But his gambles were reasonable, given that Ammendola missed a game-tying field goal last week, and the Cardinals defense had been playing well. The decision also seemed wise when Ammendola missed an extra point in the third quarter after the Cardinals recovered punter Michael Dickson’s fumble in the end zone to close to within 12-9.
The Cardinals offense’s pursuit of competence was made more difficult when left guard Justin Pugh left with a knee injury in the first half. The Cardinals already were playing without starting center Rodney Hudson, who is out with a knee injury.
Even with starters out, the Cardinals offensive struggles were startling severe.
The thinking was that if the Cardinals offense was going to finally reach good health, it would do so against Seattle, which ranked last in the NFL in yardage allowed and second in points allowed entering the game.
Instead, the Cardinals made this group of Seahawks look like the franchise’s old Legion of Boom. In the process, the Cardinals turned into a 2-4 team hoping that a suspended receiver also is a savior.