Moore: Cardinals playoff hopes look scary after loss to Vikings
MINNEAPOLIS — All it took was 5 minutes for the whole season to get scary for the Cardinals.
Arizona went ahead 17-14 over Minnesota with 9:01 left in the third quarter at US Bank Stadium in downtown Minneapolis on Sunday, thanks to DeAndre Hopkins making a one-handed touchdown catch in the back of the end zone.
From there Minnesota scored right back, sparked by a 29-yard gain from receiver Justin Jefferson. Then Kyler Murray threw an inexcusable interception. Then Vikings running back Dalvin Cook scored.
And with 4:07 left in the third quarter, Minnesota was up by 11 on the way to a 34-26 victory.
Kyler Murray said the season isn’t over.
“This one’s very frustrating, but we’ll get over it,” Murray said. “We’ve got a division opponent coming up, and everything we want is right in front of us. We’ll be better.”
They’re going to have to be.
The Cardinals are 3-5 with nine games to go. Conventional wisdom says it will take nine or 10 wins to get into the playoffs, meaning Arizona will have to go 6-3 or even 7-2 to close out the season.
It’s not impossible, there’s just not much room left for errors — like the cluster the Cardinals suffered from in the fourth quarter on Sunday.
There was a bad snap on third-and-8 in the red zone.
There was a fumbled punt return.
And with the clock winding down and a chance to tie the score and send the game into overtime, Murray was sacked on back-to-back plays.
“Sucks,” Murray said. “Losing that one, it was self-inflicted … we’ll be better.”
The Cardinals should consider this their final warning. The next three weeks Arizona will face the Seahawks, Rams and 49ers.
They’re all division opponents in a tightly clustered NFC West, so those games are especially important in the standings.
Two of three of those games are at home, where the Cardinals have a terrible time nesting. They’re just 1-3 at State Farm Stadium this season amid struggles that go back to last season.
And the Rams own the Cardinals under Sean McVay.
There could be a sense of optimism around the reality that Arizona was without James Conner, Rodney Hudson, Hollywood Brown, DJ Humphries, Justin Pugh and Max Garcia on offense, but losing tends to make the dings and scrapes that come with life in the NFL hurt that much more. Veterans come back early from injuries during playoff chases. During lost seasons, they let the young guys have a turn.
“Anytime you have six starters out on offense, it’s tough,” coach Kliff Kingsbury said.
Tougher still when you’re burning timeouts and struggling to get plays to the huddle with enough time for a patchwork offensive line make calls and for Murray to make checks.
Kingsbury doesn’t think his guys have given up.
“I thought our guys battled,” he said. “I’m proud of their effort.”
Kingsbury’s good vibes are well placed, but fleeting, like the artificial snow that floats around the stadium in Minnesota or the guitar riffs from Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” when the artist’s hometown Vikings make a play.
There’s no more time for tricks if Arizona wants to make the playoffs.
With Halloween ending, it’s time for the Cardinals to stop dressing up like a bad football team.
Reach Moore at email@example.com or 602-444-2236. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter @SayingMoore.
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