A week after winning their division and clinching a playoff spot, the Arizona Cardinals reverted to looking like a work in progress Sunday.
The Cardinals were physically dominated on both sides of the ball in a 35-14 loss to the Minnesota Vikings. The loss was Arizona’s third in its last four games, with all of the defeats coming against NFC playoff contenders.
Minnesota moved the ball up and down the field virtually at will, bolting out to an insurmountable 28-0 halftime lead. Vikings quarterback Tarvaris Jackson threw for 163 yards and four touchdowns, and superstar running back Adrian Peterson racked up 165 rushing yards on 28 carries.
On the other side of the ball, the Vikings hit and pressured Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner for much of the day, sacking him four times, and rendered Arizona’s formidable wide receiver corps largely ineffective. Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald were held to a combined 82 receiving yards.
"There's not much positive about that game," said Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt. "We obviously didn't play well. We put ourselves in the whole and that hurt us. You can't do that against a good team like that. Give them credit."
The Vikings completely dominated the first half.
Minnesota’s Bernard Berrian returned a Ben Graham punt 82 yards along the left sideline for a touchdown and the game's first points.
Six plays later, after Warner had thrown an interception on the Cardinals’ possession, Berrian hauled in a 42-yard touchdown pass from Jackson. Later in the first quarter, after a Boldin fumble, the Vikings opened up a 21-point lead on a 6-yard touchdown pass from Jackson to Sidney Rice.
The Vikings (9-5) went ahead 28-0 just before halftime on an 11-yard touchdown pass from Jackson to Chester Taylor, capping a 12-play, 91-yard drive that chewed more than seven minutes off the clock.
"They're a playoff-caliber team and they came in here with a mission and a goal and they played their tails off," said Cardinals safety Adrian Wilson. "There isn't a lot you can say they did wrong, but obviously they had a lot to play for and we didn't come out sharp early."
Arizona briefly challenged in the third quarter, but never got closer than 14 points.
The Cardinals (8-6) scored early in the third quarter on a 50-yard touchdown pass from Kurt Warner to Jerheme Urban. With just under five minutes left in the quarter, Arizona's Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie blocked a 35-yard field goal attempt by Minnesota's Ryan Longwell, and the loose ball was picked up and returned 68 yards for a touchdown by cornerback Rod Hood.
Minnesota quickly responded, though, and a 59-yard touchdown pass from Jackson to Bobby Wade put the Vikings up 35-14.
Warner finished 29-of-45 for 270 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
The retractable roof at University of Phoenix Stadium was open, with the game played in overcast conditions and temperatures in the 50s.
"It appeared to me in the game that we didn't come out ready to play," added Whisenhunt. "That's something we had concerns about because we hadn't handled success well in the past. But I didn't see it this week in practice so I don't know why we did that."
Arizona visits the New England Patriots next Sunday, and closes out the regular season the following Sunday at home against the Seattle Seahawks. The Cardinals have already clinched the NFC West and will play at home in the first round of the playoffs.
Minnesota hosts the Atlanta Falcons next week. The Vikings are a game ahead of the Chicago Bears for the lead in the NFC North.