Winners and Losers from Arizona's 21-14 Loss at Minnesota

Andrew Nordmeier@@AndrewNordmeierContributor IIIOctober 21, 2012

Winners and Losers from Arizona's 21-14 Loss at Minnesota

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    The Arizona Cardinals continue to slide down the standings after posting their third straight loss. This time, they were on the short end of the 21-14 score against the Minnesota Vikings in Minneapolis. 

    After a 4-0 start for the first time since 1974, the Cardinals have been swallowed back into the pack in the NFC and have a difficult road ahead. 

    Arizona hosts bitter division rival San Francisco on Monday Night Football before visiting Lambeau Field in its final two games prior to the bye. 

    Despite the loss on the scoreboard, there were some winners and losers on an individual basis for both teams. Start the slideshow and see who else put up Ws and Ls in this Week 7 matchup. 

Winner: Arizona RB LaRod Stephens-Howling

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    Stephens-Howling showed some spark in an otherwise anemic ground game as he ran for 104 yards on 20 carries and scored the Cardinals' rushing touchdown. He added four catches for 45 yards and finished with a career-best 149 yards of total offense on the day. 

    Stephens-Howling also became the Cards' first 100-yard rusher since Beanie Wells' 227-yard outburst at St. Louis in Week 12 last season. 

    Arizona finally showed some signs of life and posted its best rushing total of the 2012 season against a usually-stout Vikings defense. While it's encouraging to see the ground game being productive, the bigger question is whether it can happen on a consistent enough basis to make the Cardinals two-dimensional on offense. 

Loser: Arizona QB John Skelton

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    Skelton was pressed into service after Kevin Kolb went down with a rib injury last week against Buffalo.

    Skelton performed adequately with 256 yards on 25-of-36 passing. He threw a touchdown pass to the Cardinals. He also threw one to the Vikings that wound up being the difference maker. Harrison Smith returned a Skelton pass 31 yards for the eventual game-winning touchdown in the third quarter. 

    On the play, Skelton was flushed out of the pocket and tried to hit Early Doucet with a pass. Instead, he hit Smith on the numbers, and Smith cut across the field to the right and hit the end zone. 

    The offensive line didn't help Skelton's cause, as they allowed him to get sacked seven times in the loss. 

    It won't get easier when the 49ers come calling on Monday Night Football next week. 

Winner: Minnesota RB Adrian Peterson

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    Peterson looked like the AP that the NFL has come to know and love with a 23-carry, 157-yard effort and a touchdown. 

    The Vikings have been able to win this season when they've ridden the arm of quarterback Christian Ponder, and Peterson has been more of a compliment. This week, the roles were reversed and Peterson toted the load for the purple and gold. 

    Peterson showed no signs of being impacted by the ACL he tore last season, as he was able to cut and slash his way through the Arizona defense. Peterson averaged 6.8 yards per carry and had a long run of 27 yards. 

    Minnesota is now 5-2 on the season, and Peterson looks to be ready to keep the Vikings towards the top of the NFC. 

Loser: Arizona WR Larry Fitzgerald

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    Fitzgerald wound up with four catches for 29 yards on Sunday. He was targeted seven times, tied with Early Doucet and one behind tight end Rob Housler's team-high eight. 

    The roller-coaster 2012 campaign for Fitz continued with this dud of a game. Minnesota certainly rolled the coverage his way and was effective in shutting down the Pro Bowl receiver. 

    Fitzgerald had 22 catches in his previous three games, but remember, he had the one-catch, four-yard game against New England.

    Arizona needs to be able to work on getting him the ball more often, as he is the team's best offensive weapon. It also needs to be able to balance it out with spreading the ball around and incorporating the running game as well. 

Loser: Minnesota QB Christian Ponder

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    Christian Ponder had a horrible game against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 7. 

    He completed just 8-of-17 passes for a meager 58 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions while suffering three sacks. 

    And he was the winning quarterback. 

    Ponder started off the season winning three of his first four games without throwing an interception. In the three games since, Ponder has been picked off six times. 

    His yardage has been all over the map this season. Ponder now has three games with 200 or fewer yards of passing and three others with at least 270 yards. 

    If Minnesota is going to be successful in 2012, it must have more consistent play out of Ponder. 

Loser: Arizona Cardinals Fans

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    The Cardinals fans were on top of the football world a month ago with a 4-0 start and wins over New England and Philadelphia. That was their best start since 1974, when the team was in St. Louis. 

    Fast forward three weeks, and Arizona finds itself at 4-3 with tough matchups for against San Francisco and Green Bay before the Week 10 bye. 

    It has to be incredibly frustrating to go from the penthouse to mediocrity in three short weeks. 

    Arizona fans hope the free-fall ends soon. In each of the last couple seasons, the Cardinals have gone on lengthy losing streaks. They dropped six straight in 2011 after winning the season-opener against Carolina. In 2010, the team dropped seven straight after a 3-2 start. 

    The once-full Arizona bandwagon has plenty of seats available.