SEATTLE (AP) — After cruising through the first half of the season with the best record in the NFL, the Arizona Cardinals have run into a few bumps.
Adversity arrived in the form of injuries and mistakes that have seen the Cardinals drop two of their past three and slowly lose grip on their stranglehold atop the NFC West.
But this week’s trip to Seattle affords Arizona the opportunity to stabilize itself before its bye, and perhaps provide a decisive blow to the Seahawks’ underperforming season to date.
And it may come with Kyler Murray back on the field after missing the past two games with an ankle injury that left him as a frustrated spectator, especially last week in the loss to Carolina.
“Before the loss, just watching in general makes you want to get back out there,” Murray said. “It was an unfortunate loss for us, obviously, but I’m on my pace. Not really too worried about last week, it’s over with. As a team, I know we’re going to move on, flush it, and we’ll be better because of it.”
Injuries have taken their toll on the Cardinals beyond just Murray missing two weeks. Star receiver DeAndre Hopkins has joined Murray on the sidelines the past two games. The Cardinals already lost J.J. Watt for the remainder of the season.
There is a needed break ahead for Arizona, but it comes after an opportunity to potentially land the final punch to the reigning NFC West champs.
It would seem this week is as close to a must win as possible for the Seahawks after getting shut out for the first time in 10 years in last week’s 17-0 loss to Green Bay. Seattle’s six losses are already more than the Seahawks had last year — and in five other seasons during Pete Carroll’s tenure.
Another loss would leave Seattle and its playoff hopes in a perilous position for the final seven weeks of the regular season.
“I think we’re understanding that we don’t have much more margin for error,” Seattle linebacker Bobby Wagner said. “We can’t keep giving games away. We can’t keep shooting ourselves in the foot.”
Seattle QB Russell Wilson had a forgettable return after missing a month following surgery on the middle finger of his throwing hand. Wilson threw two costly end zone interceptions and his passer rating of 39.7 was the fourth lowest of his career.
Wilson must be better against the Cardinals, a team that he’s had great success and also some ugly games against in the past.
“We know what we’re capable of and now we got to show it. We’ve got to make it happen,” Wilson said. “We can’t hope and wish. We’ve got to do.”
MIX AND MATCH
Injuries are a part of life in the NFL, but the Cardinals have dealt with more than usual.
The Cardinals have used 72 players over their 10 games, which ranks second in the NFL behind the Tennessee Titans, who have used 82.
Arizona’s remained remarkably competitive considering the turnover. Among the unsung contributors on the roster: OL Sean Harlow, LB Tanner Vallejo and DL Michael Dogbe.
The upcoming bye will be welcomed by Arizona.
“I think everybody in the league feels that way at some point during the season,” Kingsbury said. “Seventeen games at the level these guys play at is tough. Like I mentioned earlier, thankful we have the bye week approaching. I think that will give us a nice pause in the action for guys to get rest and recover.”
Seattle has continued to make a dramatic turnaround defensively from where it was at the start of the season when the Seahawks were on pace to allow record numbers.
Since Week 4, the Seahawks are fourth in the league in scoring defense (17.8 points per game) and third in third-down defense, allowing only 29.1% conversions. The Seahawks have surrendered only 37 points in the past three games combined.
ROAD SWEET ROAD
The Cardinals are trying to move to 6-0 this season on the road when they visit Lumen Field.
Arizona hasn’t just been victorious on the road, the Cardinals are winning big. The Cardinals have a plus-91 point differential on the road in 2021, which comes out to more than 18 points per game.
The Cardinals are averaging 35.4 points per game on the road and have scored at least 30 points in all five games. They’re just the fourth team in NFL history to accomplish that.
“There’s something to going into a hotel, going on a plane together, all of your meetings are right there, you’re around each other the entire time,” Kingsbury said. “… I think just that aspect does bring you together, and kind of that ‘Band of Brothers’ feel as you roll in there taking on the opposition.”
AP Sports Writer David Brandt contributed to this report.
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