The Arizona Cardinals needed a lot of help on Sunday for post season dreams to become a reality.
But the most important item on the agenda, no matter what the outcome between the Saints and the Buccaneers, beat the 49ers and get to 11 wins.
Despite making a 17 point comeback, the Cardinals fell short of that 11 win mark and will miss the playoffs despite going 10-6, falling to the 49ers 23-20.
“I really hate to see this football team’s season end because it’s been so much fun working with them,” said Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians after the game. “No team stays the same anymore in the NFL because there is so much change and turnover. We’re going to do everything we can to keep the core of this team together because there are a lot of winners in this locker room.”
“We gave everything we had today,” mentioned Cardinals defensive tackle Darnell Dockett. “We emptied the tank today…made them earn everything they got. It’s unfortunate. We played great ball but came up short.”
The 49ers came out attacking with a familiar face doing a lot of the damage. Former Cardinals Pro Bowl receiver Anquan Boldin gets touches on the first three plays for San Francisco on offense, leading them deep into the red zone. But like the Cardinals defense has done all season long, they buckled down and held the 49ers to a field goal.
The Cardinals struggled offensively off the bat. They went three-and out on their first possession and on their second, quarterback Carson Palmer threw into heavy traffic in the middle of the field and was intercepted by NaVorrow Bowman.
It was the 22nd pick of the season for Palmer, and the other way it lead to a touchdown to the man on a mission Sunday, Anquan Boldin. He had six catches for 106 yards and a touchdown in the opening quarter alone.
“We liked the matchup we had with him,” 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick said of Boldin after the game. “We didn’t think that corner could match up with him very well.”
“They had a good game plan,” mentioned Arians. “They did a lot reverses a lot of things to keep us off of stoping the run. because they knew we would be very aggressive. And we were.”
After the Cardinals defense forced the 49ers to turn the ball over on downs on their first offensive possession of the second half, Palmer would hit Michael Floyd for a 44 yard gain. On the play Michael Floyd went over 1,000 yards for the season and Palmer became Palmer became first in NFL history with 4,000 yard passing seasons for 3 different teams. Floyd became the 12th different player in team history to go over the 1,000 yard receiving mark.
But nothing would come of the big play as the Cardinals would turn the ball over on downs in 49er territory.
Cardinals would make it a one possession game at the start of the fourth quarter after Jay Feely connected on a 49 yard field goal. And as the defense continued to dominate in the second half, the Cardinals would get the ball back and Carson Pamler would connect with Andre Roberts and a great 34-yard touchdown catch to tie it up.
“It took us a while to get going,” said Palmer after the game. “We got in there at halftime and had scored. We felt like we had some momentum and every guy in our room thought it was our game. Offensively, we just talked about executing. We executed and just didn’t make enough plays when it came to it.”
The 49ers had been scoreless al through the second, third and most of the fourth quarter until kicker Phil Dawson would ignite a field goal battle in the closing minutes of the game. He nailed a 56 yard field goal to give San Francisco a 20-17 lead with 1:45 left. Jay Feely responded with a 43 yard field goal of his own to tie it at 20. Then it was Dawson in the end connecting on a 40 yarder to win it.
“I’ve never been prouder in a group of guys,” said Cardinals head coach Arians. “They are so resilient in that locker room. To be able to come back out of halftime and put ourselves in position to win the football game. But we came up short. Give the 49ers credit.”
After the game, Cardinals ten year veteran Darnell Dockett said there was no quit in this team not just in the game, but for the season.
“I hope that the organization does everything in it’s power to keep as many players on this team as possible,” he stated. “We have a lot of guys that want to win…I’ve been in this organization for ten years and we had some great group of guys on this team. I can speak for some past years but everybody on this team wanted to win and everybody was willing to do whatever it takes.”
“I had a wonderful time this year,” added Cardinals All-Pro receiver Larry Fitzgerald. “Just being around this group of me was a lot of fun. We had a lot of new faces but they all bought in…Obviously it would have been much sweeter to have been able to get into the tournament, but just the relationships, the coaching staff, it was a fun working environment.”
“I think we will have a firm belief going into OTAs that this works, the system works, the way we practice, the way we work, training camp,” Arians mentioned. “All the way through they know how it works now and they know the process. We should be able to take it and build upon it…and have a heck of an offseason from this.”
The Cardinals front office will now go back to the drawing board to see who they will able to bring back to this team in 2014. But for now, 2013 was a very promising indication of what this franchise could accomplish with Bruce Arians at the helm.