Cardinals end record regular season with 36-6 dud
Bruce Arians got worried when he saw the sluggishness at Wednesday's practice. When his Cardinals were even worse a day later, the Arizona coach envisioned what might unfold Sunday.
It turned out as bad as he feared.
Russell Wilson threw three touchdown passes, Christine Michael rushed for 102 yards, and the Seattle Seahawks didn't punt until late in the third quarter in a 36-6 rout.
It marked the most lopsided defeat in Arians' tenure and sent Arizona (13-3) to the playoffs on a sour note after a record-breaking regular season for the NFC West champs.
"This was a valuable lesson today. We could see it coming all week," Arians said. "Coaches, players, everybody fell into that reading the press clippings that were anointing us Super Bowl champs. It's a nice wakeup call. We got beaten in every phase of the game."
The positives for Arizona happened early, before the feel-good script was torn up and a nine-game winning streak snapped.
Larry Fitzgerald caught a 15-yard pass on the first play from scrimmage to break his own franchise record for receptions in a season. He later caught a 17-yard pass from Carson Palmer for Arizona's lone touchdown early in the second quarter.
Before that, Palmer surpassed Neil Lomax's single-season team mark for yards passing. But Palmer never saw the field in the second half, going 12 of 25 for 129 yards and an interception before watching a 30-6 halftime deficit grow larger.
A nightmare second quarter did in the Cardinals. And all three areas contributed nearly equally.
"I haven't been beat like that, not even in high school," linebacker Kevin Minter said. Jeremy Lane's early interception on a floater set the tone for Palmer, who struggled with his accuracy and kept getting balls batted down. Michael Floyd dropped a good pass on third down.
Tyler Lockett had punt returns of 66 and 42 yards to set up touchdowns for Seattle (10-6). Lockett later scampered 31 yards on another return that ended with a missed field goal. Lockett set the Seattle record for punt return yards in a game midway through the second quarter.
The Arizona defense failed to cover Will Tukuafu on a 7-yard TD - his first catch of any kind this season.
That was before Wilson found tight end Chase Coffman for his second career touchdown. When Wilson connected with Jermaine Kearse for a 24-yard TD, it was 30-6.
Chandler Catanzaro's 52-yard field goal attempt clanged off the left post to end the first half. Catanzaro missed his fifth extra point of the season for the Cardinals earlier in the second quarter.
"Sluggish, no energy, lackadaisical, and it caught up with us," cornerback Patrick Peterson said. "These guys have been to the Super Bowl two years in a row. They understand what it takes to go on the road and win."
Arizona's winning string began with a 39-32 victory at Seattle on Nov. 15. Another victory would have tied the 1948 Chicago Cardinals for the longest winning streak in franchise history.
The Cardinals had a chance to claim the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs with a win and a Carolina loss to Tampa Bay. But the Panthers were pulling away just as Arizona imploded against a Seattle team missing two starting offensive linemen, running back Marshawn Lynch, and safety Kam Chancellor to injuries.
Wilson sat out the fourth quarter, finishing 19 of 28 for 197 yards and no interceptions. The second-seeded Cardinals will host a divisional-round game Jan. 16 or 17, possibly against the Seahawks. Seattle is 3-0 at Arizona since Arians took over.
"They should be concerned," Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman said.
Drew Stanton replaced Palmer and was intercepted twice. Arizona, which entered as the NFL leader in points and yards, finished with 232 yards and three turnovers.
"I'd love to be able to turn my attention to the playoffs with a better taste in my mouth," Fitzgerald said. "It's disheartening with the way we performed today.
"But it's nice knowing we have a week to get everybody back healthy now, get a game plan together for whoever we're going to play in two weeks, and come back here with a lot more energy."
NOTES: Fitzgerald finished the season with 109 catches and Palmer 4,671 yards passing. . Cardinals DT Cory Redding didn't return after a first-half ankle injury. . Asked about Catanzaro's struggles on extra points, Arians said, "Every time he kicks one I hold my breath." . Arians' previous worst loss with Arizona was 35-6 to Seattle last year. . Palmer finished with a club record 104.6 passer rating. . Wilson has 24 TD passes and one interception since the first meeting with Arizona.
Copyright 2015 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.