Reflecting on the 5 Defining Moments of Arizona Cardinals' 2013 Season

Shaun Church@@NFLChurchContributor IDecember 31, 2013

Reflecting on the 5 Defining Moments of Arizona Cardinals' 2013 Season

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    The Arizona Cardinals just concluded one heck of a 2013 season. They were not supposed to contend for anything but a top-10 pick in the 2014 draft. They were supposed to finish last in the NFC West.

    But new head coach Bruce Arians would not let that happen.

    These 53 men fought their asses off for 16 games and nearly came out as one of 12 teams left standing for the right to play for the Lombardi Trophy. You should have nothing but pride for them for the heart they showed this season.

    Finishing 10-6 should earn most teams a playoff berth, but it was not to be for the Cardinals this season. The experience would have been great for the young players. And for the veterans who have never won a playoff game, like quarterback Carson Palmer and safety Yeremiah Bell, it would have been fun to watch those guys fight some more.

    Anything is possible in the playoffs, and with the defense playing as well as it has all season, who knows what would have happened if Arizona sneaked in on the final day of the season?

    With all that said, there were many defining moments from the 2013 season—good and bad. Here is a rundown of the best of them, because dwelling on the bad is not how this should go. The season was too good, and the future is too bright, to focus on the poor performances.

    We’ll leave that for ESPN and NFL Network, because you know they’ll cover them like a glove.

Steve Keim Trades Levi Brown

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    It’s post-Week 1, and the Cardinals have just lost to the St. Louis Rams. Pass protection was decent—except for left tackle Levi Brown, who allowed three sacks, all to star defensive end Robert Quinn.

    At this point, Brown was on the trading block, according to Darren Urban of

    Fast-forward to post-Week 4, and Brown is on a plane to Pittsburgh to join up with the Steelers—he’d been traded for what ended up being literally nothing after being placed on the injured reserve list with another triceps injury.


    Why It Defined the Season

    Back in 2007 when the Cardinals drafted Brown, general manager Steve Keim wanted the team to take running back Adrian Peterson with the fifth-overall pick.

    Instead, the pick was Brown, and you can only imagine Keim was waiting for his opportunity to get rid of the disappointment that was No. 75. He said, per Urban:

    Levi Brown was not living up to our expectations on the field. At the end of the day, when you realize he is not in the long-term plans, instead of belaboring the point, it’s in the best interest of the organization to move on.

    He was terrible and had to go, in other words.

    Enter Bradley Sowell. The former undrafted free-agent signee of the Indianapolis Colts in 2012—when Arians was the offensive coordinator/interim head coach—started the final 12 games of the season.

    While he was no better than Brown would have been, a very important point had been made: Steve Keim is the general manager of this team, and he will have the players on the roster that he wants and no one else.

Tyrann Mathieu’s 4th-Down Stop

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    It’s Week 2, and the Cardinals have the Detroit Lions on the ropes. The Lions have a 4th-and-4 from near midfield, and they are down by four. There is one minute and 15 seconds remaining in the game; they need a conversion to keep the potential game-winning drive alive.

    Detroit wideout Nate Burleson runs a slant from the offense’s right. Just before he makes his break toward the middle of the field, he shoves rookie cornerback Tyrann Mathieu backward, creating the separation needed to make the catch and gain the necessary four yards.

    Burleson did not anticipate Mathieu recovering as quickly as he did, however, and Mathieu brings him down a yard shy of the marker, turning the ball over on downs and sealing the first victory of the Bruce Arians era.

    Watch the GIF here.


    Why It Defined the Season

    Because of his past, Mathieu was a risky pick in Round 3 of the 2013 draft; Keim took a chance by drafting him at all. But the former LSU star and Heisman Trophy finalist proved from Day 1 he was not going to be a problem.

    This play was the second example of many he would show throughout the season of why he was the perfect pick for the Cardinals in the third round.

    He could have been the team’s first-round pick, way up at No. 7 overall, and though it would have taken a lot of explaining, Mathieu would have made Keim look like a genius for drafting him that high—that’s how good he was in 2013.

    Mathieu went on to create a highlight reel all by himself before a knee injury prematurely ended his season, but his future is as bright as anyone's.

Pass-Rushers Go Down for the Season

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    It’s Week 3, and the Cardinals are at the New Orleans Saints. Starting outside linebackers Sam Acho and Lorenzo Alexander both go down with season-ending injuries within minutes of each other.


    Why It Defined the Season

    As unfortunate as the injuries were, the fact is that Arizona was not generating much of a pass rush from the edges. With Acho and Alexander on the mend, that allowed veteran John Abraham to step in and fill their shoes as the pass-rusher on the edge.

    He had plenty of experience, entering this season as the active leader with 122 career sacks.

    Abraham was a part-time player before the injuries, averaging 28 defensive snaps per game during Weeks 1 and 2. From then on, he started 12 games and averaged better than 59 snaps per game. He will represent the Cardinals as an alternate in the Pro Bowl after finishing tied for seventh in the NFL with 11.5 sacks.

    Arizona tied the Kansas City Chiefs for seventh in the league with 47 sacks, thanks in large part to Abraham.

Carson Palmer Lights Up the Falcons

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    It’s Week 8, and the Cardinals have one game before the bye week. The struggling Atlanta Falcons are in town, and Palmer is coming off two poor games against the NFC West-leading 49ers and Seahawks, the team having dropped both and fallen to 3-4 on the season.

    To this point in the season, Palmer has completed 60.5 percent of his passes for 1,741 yards, eight touchdowns and 13 interceptions for a 69.5 passer rating. Despite showing promise in Arians’ offense, he has turned the ball over far too much to be as effective as needed.

    Arians dials back the passing attack against the Falcons, relying instead on two rookie running backs—Andre Ellington and Stepfan Taylor—to do the heavy lifting. Ellington carries 15 times for 154 yards (10.3 yards per carry) and an electrifying 80-yard touchdown in the 27-13 win.

    But Palmer is sharp, going 13-of-18 passing (72.2 percent) for 172 yards, two touchdowns and an interception for a season-high 116.0 passer rating.


    Why It Defined the Season

    The bounce-back win didn’t seem like much at the time because of how little Palmer was involved in the action. But in retrospect, that game kicked off a string of seven games in which he was about as efficient as a quarterback can be.

    From the Atlanta game through Week 15 against the Tennessee Titans, Palmer completed 69.0 percent of his passes for 1,948 yards, 13 touchdowns and only four interceptions for a 106.0 rating.

    How good is a 106.0 passer rating over a seven-game span? Only two quarterbacks in franchise history have a higher rating over any seven-game stretch: Kurt Warner (108.6 rating from Weeks 8 to 14 in 2008) and Neil Lomax (106.4 rating from Week 9 to 15 in 1983).

    Arizona went 6-1 while Palmer went on his tear and found itself thickly in the NFC playoff race.

Cardinals Snap the Streak

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    It’s Week 16, and the Cardinals are in “12th-Man Territory” playing the Seahawks. Seattle hasn’t lost at home since San Francisco beat them on Christmas Eve, 2011. That’s 729 days on a calendar, in case you needed to know.

    The game that ensues will be an instant classic, filled with offensive failure and defensive success, then offensive success and defensive failure before three Palmer kneel-downs officially end Seattle’s 14-game home winning streak.


    Why It Defined the Season

    This game was supposed to be unwinnable. The Cardinals came in a 10-point underdog, and even that spread was too small. There was no way the lowly Arizona Cardinals were going into 12th-Man Territory and defeating the best team in the NFL.

    But they did anyway.

    Good teams find ways to win close games, no matter how bad the game has gone. Leading up to the game-winning drive, Palmer had thrown four interceptions, tying a career high. He had completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes for 122 yards in 52:34 of play.

    But on the drive that culminated with a 31-yard touchdown strike to wideout Michael Floyd, Palmer completed three of four passes for 56 yards. He also converted perhaps the biggest play of the season when he scrambled to his right, nearing the sideline before hitting tight end Jake Ballard for 17 yards on 3rd-and-3.

    The win meant this Cardinals team could go on the road and win the unwinnable game. Arians talked throughout the season about “stealing” a win on the road. This type of game is one to which he was referring.

    This game was for the future. It did not help them get into the playoffs, because they’re not in the postseason this year. But the win proved to everyone they can go into a hostile environment and beat a good football team.

    What a difference a year, a new general manager, 18 new coaches and 30 new players make.


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