Kevin Kolb said last week the Cardinals needed that initial first down on the opening drive to get things going and re-establish their confidence as a unit.
The good news was they got it when Kolb hit rookie tight end Robert Housler on third and four for an eight-yard gain on the third play of the game.
The bad news was what happened on the very next play.
Steelers free safety Ryan Clark picked off the tipped pass and returned it to the Arizona 31 yard-line. Shortly after Ben Roethlisberger hit a wide open Heath Miller in the corner of the end zone and Pittsburgh (5-2) never looked back cruising to a 32-20 win Sunday afternoon in Glendale.
Head coach Ken Whisenhunt offered a simple solution following the Cardinals (1-5) fifth-straight loss.
“They made plays and we didn’t make enough,” Whisenhunt explained in his post-game press conference. “This league is all about making plays. When you lose five in a row, it’s tough.”
What’s even tougher is trying to find bright spots in a game the Cardinals were never really in.
Kolb finished 18-34 for 272 yards and two touchdowns, but missed open receivers for big plays throughout the game and was flagged for intentional grounding in the end zone which led to a Steeler safety.
Running back Beanie Wells averaged just 3.5 yards on his twelve carries before leaving the game in the second quarter with an undisclosed knee injury.
Meanwhile, Roethlisberger picked over the Cards young secondary time and time again, completing 26 of his 39 throws for 361 yards and three touchdowns. He wasn’t intercepted and frequently checked down to his third or fourth option while eluding pressure in the pocket.
The Red Birds pulled to within 17-14 in the third quarter when Kolb hit LaRon Stephens-Howling out of the backfield for a 73-yard score, but on the next series, Big Ben capped an 11-play drive connecting with Emmanuel Sanders on a four-yard score to push the lead back to ten and essentially put the game away.
With the loss, the Cardinals fell four games behind idle San Francisco (5-1) in the NFC West.
The task of salvaging the season gets no easier next week with a trip to Baltimore against the AFC North-leading Ravens (4-2).
“We fight hard for each other,” said wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald who caught four passes for 78 yards Sunday. “We’re the only one’s that can turn this around. We can’t allow that (negativity) to get in our minds.”
At 1-5 and the season slipping away, that’s certainly easier said than done.