Sunday’s game between the Arizona Cardinals and the Atlanta Falcons was everything we expect from a Cardinals game. The matchup featured five interceptions, four by one passer, and a quarterback going over 300 yards passing only to lose the game. The difference was, that passer wasn’t Carson Palmer.
Now, before we heap praise on the Cardinals, it was their defense that did the heavy lifting, intercepting Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan four times. Carson Palmer, for his part, put up solid numbers going 13 of 18 passing with two touchdowns and one interception. Although he only threw for 172 yards, Palmer managed Arizona’s offense exactly as the team needed.
The real star of the Cardinals’ offensive attack was rookie running back Andre Ellington. Ellington, who ran the ball only 15 times, ripped off 154 yards, including a huge 80-yard touchdown in the 2nd quarter.
In winning, the Cardinal were able to get back to the .500 mark, launching themselves back into the wildcard race. Playing in the toughest division in football, there’s very few who think Arizona can make a run at the NFC West title, but even if the 49ers and Seahawks cruise into the postseason, there still may be room for the Cardinals yet.
As it stands, the Detroit Lions are clinging to the sixth seed in the NFC playoff picture, with a number of teams within a game of the final playoff spot. It’s possible that the 49ers or Seahawks could fall back to earth, opening up the fifth seed for competition, but if they continue playing at their usual levels, that’s not going to happen anytime soon.
The Cardinals may have won a game over a struggling Falcons squad, but Atlanta is no pushover team. Arizona won by doing exactly what head coach Bruce Arians has been pleading for all season. They won the turnover battle on defense and stayed out of their own way on offense. It’s a winning combination for the Cardinals, who feature a high-octane offense, when it’s functioning correctly, and a defense with the ability to shut most teams down.
The Cardinals aren’t where they need to be just yet, but Sunday’s win puts them in the mix, and if they can continue to make strides in the right direction, they may be the third team from the NFC West to sneak into the postseason in late December.
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