Now that’s more like it.
After a first half that saw the Cardinals play more like a 5-1 team rather than a 1-5 one, the final 30 minutes revealed the true problems of this year’s squad. Inexperience at the quarterback position, the inability to stop the run (or the pass for that matter) and a lack of playmakers led to the Cardinals blowing an 18-point halftime lead, falling to the Ravens on a last-second field goal, 30-27.
Heading into the lockerroom, all signs pointed to an Arizona upset. Kevin Kolb was managing his troops on offense, throwing for a touchdown and keeping the ball out of the hands of those guys in purple and black. Meanwhile, the Cardinals’ defense and special teams were both flying high, as rookie Patrick Peterson had a spectacular 82-yard punt return for a touchdown and contributed on a defensive unit that forced Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco into a pair of turnovers and just six points.
Yet, as time began to tick away in the second half, so too did Arizona’s cushion. Eighteen points became 11. Eleven became four. Four quickly turned into a three-point deficit. By the time Ray Rice stood up in the end zone following his third touchdown of the game, the Cardinals were on the wrong side of a 27-24 score with time winding down in the fourth quarter.
To their credit, the Cardinals responded. Kolb manufactured a 12-play drive, allowing kicker Jay Feely to tie the game at 27. But it was too late. Momentum had already swung toward the home team. Following a defensive stand late in the fourth quarter, Arizona’s offense failed to move the ball deep in its own territory. All it could do was give the ball back to the Ravens and watch as Flacco moved his troops into position for Billy Cundiff to kick the game-winning field goal as time expired.
A lot of experts will likely spit out the overused and excruciatingly cliche analysis that it was a “tale of two halves” for the Cardinals. In fact, both halves saw the Cardinals unable to stop the Ravens rushing attack and struggle to produce long, sustaining drives. The only difference was in the opening 30 minutes, Arizona capitalized on a pair of key turnovers and was fortunate to have a very skilled Peterson returning a punt back for a score.
As far as Kolb’s performance goes, Sunday was a microcosm of the 2011 season. The starter was 10-for-21 through the air, passing for 153 yards to go along with a touchdown and an interception. He was under constant pressure, however, being sacked six times and hurried on easily a dozen others. Prior to the game, the Ravens said they planned to throw a number of different looks at Kolb, in an effort to keep him guessing and eager to leave the pocket. In the end, it was clear that gameplan was executed brilliantly.
Running back Chris “Beanie” Wells slashed and bruised his way to a respectable afternoon. His 83 yards on 22 carries helped keep Arizona’s rushing presence alive, but at less than four yards per carry, on an already unhealthy frame, Wells might need to spend a few days in the tub to heal his wounds.
On the opposite side of the ball, it was Arizona’s secondary that really crumbled in the final two quarters. In the first half, Flacco was held to just 98 yards through the air and only 12 completions. His final stats, however? A meaty 336 yards and 31 completions, both career highs for the University of Delaware product.
Of course, one could argue the 336 yards are indicative of what Flacco should be producing on a weekly basis and shift credit to the Cardinals secondary for keeping Flacco in check early on in the game. But with such a large cushion and with a season dwindling away, the back seven needed to do a better job of holding things down in the second half.
So now what do the Cardinals do? They’re 1-6, likely out of any playoff scenarios - even in the NFC West - and have games against the Eagles and 49ers on the horizon. It’s true, this team has shown signs of life, evidenced by the first half of Sunday’s game in Baltimore. But it doesn’t mean much if you’re living life half the time, and spending the other half on life support.