SEATTLE - For 12 straight games, the Cardinals resembled a playoff contender, either winning or having a shot in each.
That streak ended in dreary fashion Sunday as the franchise’s first meaningful December game since the 1990s went badly as the Seattle Seahawks blew out the Cardinals 42-21 at Qwest Field.
With the win, the Seahawks (9-4) wrapped up their fourth straight NFC West title.
Moreover, they demonstrated there’s still quite a gap between them and the Cardinals, the division’s second-best team.
The Cardinals dropped to 6-7, one game behind the surging Minnesota Vikings for the NFC’s final wild-card spot.
To have a chance, they’ll most likely have to win their final three games.
“We have to win every one that’s put in front of us,” said quarterback Kurt Warner, who was intercepted a career-high five times.
The Seahawks, behind the brilliant passing of Matt Hasselbeck, exploited a Cardinals secondary depleted by injuries and rolled up a 24-0 lead.
And because the Cardinals fell behind so far so quickly, they were forced into a predictable passing mode against a solid Seahawks defense.
“Once you get one-dimensional, it’s hard to throw … that’s the thing you don’t want to do in a game like this,” said Edgerrin James, who ran just 13 times for 46 yards.
And this, in turn, allowed the Seahawks to put a fierce rush on Warner.
In particular, defensive end Patrick Kerney managed to get around Cardinals tackle Levi Brown too often.
Once down, Warner and the Cardinals tried to force the action.
And the Seahawks took advantage, with Marcus Trufant picking off three of the errant passes.
“Some ill-advised throws on may part trying to make a play, trying to get us back in the game,” Warner said.
“When we don’t turn the ball over, we’re a pretty good team. When we do … we make it difficult on ourselves,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said.
One of the rare stretches where things went right for the Cardinals came during the game’s first few plays.
Warner and James led the Cards 35 yards on four plays to the Seahawks’ 36.
Then Brown was called for a false start.
Warner spotted tight end Ben Patrick open over the middle. But he sailed the pass over Patrick’s head and the Seahawks’ Deon Grant picked it off.
Patrick missed tackling Grant, who took off on a 34-yard return. The Seahawks had 15 more yards tacked on because of a face-mask penalty.
That set up a 23-yard field goal by Josh Brown.
“We had a guy open in the middle of the field, and I just overthrew him … we a chance for a great opening drive,” Warner said. “That was huge.”
After the Cardinals’ next drive stalled, the Seahawks jumped out to a 10-0 lead on a near-flawless nine-play, 79-yard drive.
The Seahawks led by double digits the rest of the way.
“We moved the ball again, but we didn’t capitalize and get points on that second drive,” center Al Johnson said. “That would really have changed the momentum.”
What turned out to be the Cardinals’ best shot at staying in the game came early in the second quarter.
Down 10-0, they had a third-and-10 at the Seahawks’ 32.
They appeared to play for a field goal on a run by Marcel Shipp up the middle. The play went nowhere, and Neil Rackers was way short on a 50-yard field goal.
The Seahawks continued to play a brilliant game of pass-and-catch, led by Hasselbeck.
By the time Bobby Engram made a diving catch in the end zone, the Seahawks had a 17-0 lead and — for all practical purposes — the game.
Hasselbeck picked apart the Cardinals on 22-of-33 passing for four touchdowns. He spread the wealth among the Seattle receivers, as four players had at least 50 yards receiving.
The Cardinals managed one score late in the half.
They took over on the Seahawks’ 26 after a poor punt, then drove to the 5-yard line, where they converted a fourth-and-2 with a pass to Bryant Johnson in the end zone.
But the Seahawks took a short Cardinals’ kickoff and moved quickly downfield for a field goal to make it 27-7 at halftime.
There were 30 minutes to be played, but — for the first time this season — the Cardinals had been blown out.
They cut the lead to 27-14 late in the third quarter on a 2-yard touchdown pass to Jerheme Urban. Rackers recovered his own onside kick.
But another interception of Warner by Trufant sealed the game.
Trufant later intercepted Warner again and returned it 84 yards for the Seahawks’ final score.