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Top Five: Most Heartbreaking Regular Season Cardinals Losses In The Ken Whisenhunt Era

With Scott Howard in a foul mood about yesterday's loss to the Vikings, what better to explore than the five most heartbreaking regular season losses in the Whisenhunt era?

For the past few weeks, I've realized that I owe you, the reader, a Top Five column. Everyone has a niche around here and this just happens to be mine. I believe Seth called me an Arizona sports historian or something.

After watching the way the Cardinals lost to the Vikings yesterday, the subject matter for this Top Five became pretty clear to me -- obviously this needs to be about the most heartbreaking regular season losses in the Ken Whisenhunt era.

I did a Top 5 of the best regular season wins in the Whiz era a few months ago and, considering my current mood, I think this is more than appropriate.

Disclaimer: If you feel like being depressed, this is the perfect list for you.

You can't put together a list without setting up some conditions, thus I suppose I owe you some criteria:

  • Must have been in the Ken Whisenhunt era so yes, we're talking about 2007 to present. That knocks out the infamous Bears Monday Night game from 2006.
  • Must have been during the regular season. As obvious as the Super Bowl is when it comes to heartbreak, it's not the regular season. Promise.
  • The loss obviously had to be heartbreaking in some way. For example, the 47-7 snow plow New England took to the Cardinals in 2008 wasn't pretty, but the Cardinals were never in the game.

Honorable Mention:

  • 2007, Week 1 @ San Francisco 49ers (20-17) - The start of the Ken Whisenhunt era got us started in nice soul crushing fashion. Arizona took a 17-13 lead on a Leinart to Boldin TD pass with 6:40 left, only to see the Niners drive right down the field for a score. What made this one special is that Niners WR Arnaz Battle fumbled near the goal line for what would have been the winning score, but the Cards' Eric Green was unable to recover in the end zone. SF recovered and one play later was in the zone.
  • 2007, Week 7 @ Washington Redskins (21-19) - Kurt Warner was struggling with an elbow injury suffered the week before, causing him to have a robotic non-throwing arm, but a furious rally had the Cardinals on the doorstep of victory. Trailing 21-8 entering the 4th, the Cards scored a touchdown early and then again with 26 seconds remaining. Though their 2-point conversion failed, Arizona recovered an onside kick and set Neil Rackers up with a 55-yarder to win. Though Rackers was in the midst of a career year, he hit the kick wide left to give Washington the win. Clutch Rackers being clutch Rackers.
  • 2008, Week 3 @ Washington Redskins (24-17) - Same place as 2007, but probably not quite as crushing. Coming off a 2-0 start to the 2008 season, the Cards were looking to come up with some road success. They tied the game at 17 towards the end of the third and, with the ball and momentum, Kurt Warner went deep for Steve Breaston. Unfortunately, Redskins corner Leigh Torrence tipped the ball high in the air, allowing it to be picked off by Carlos Rogers. Rogers took the ball into scoring range for Washington and the Skins finished off their win.

(5) 2010, Week 8 v. Bucs

Result: 38-35 loss

The Game: Try for a minute to harken all the way back to last Sunday. Are you there mentally? Good.

Max Hall got the start for Arizona despite going 4 of 16 with a few turnovers the previous week in Seattle, but a touchdown pass on the Cardinals' second drive made it appear he was on the right track. Except he wasn't. Not at all.

Hall threw a pair of touchdowns to Tampa Bay in the first half and the Bucs carried a 24-14 lead into halftime.

Derek Anderson replaced Max Hall late in the first half, but the offense still didn't show a whole lot of progress. On Tampa Bay's second drive of the half, LeGarrett Blount gashed the Cards for a 15-yard TD score and the Cardinals deficit was 17.

Arizona followed that up by scoring 14 points in just 16 seconds to trim the deficit to three as the third quarter expired. After forcing a punt from Tampa, the Cardinals offense got into gear again as Anderson found Larry Fitzgerald for a go-ahead touchdown.

Rally complete! Everything and everyone was feeling good. Oh, there's 9:41 left? And what's this list? Crap.

The Heartbreak: With momentum completely on the side of the Cardinals, the Bucs faced a Fourth and 1 from their own 45. Big Josh Freeman barreled forward for a yard to give Tampa a first and a play later, he launched a pass 53 yards downfield to put TB on the cusp of the end zone.

Obviously, Tampa Bay punched the TD home, but there was still 5:08 remaining the game. Seems like a perfect time for Derek Anderson to revert to form.

On the first play of the next drive, an Anderson pass bounced off the hands of LaRod Stephens-Howling and into the waiting arms of Buccaneers linebacker Barrett Ruud, deep in Cardinals territory.

The Cardinals actually blocked a field goal attempt from the Bucs and again had an opportunity to either tie the game or forge ahead.

Anderson actually had the Cardinals on the Tampa 20 -- which is obviously field goal range -- with a little over two minutes left. At this point you're thinking, at worst, this game goes to overtime. Yet for whatever reason (Okay, it's because he's Derek Anderson), DA forced a pass in to Larry Fitzgerald and it was picked off by Aqib Talib -- his second INT of the game. 

The Cardinals STILL could have had a decent chance to tie the game, but Blount put that to rest when he trucked Kerry Rhodes on his way to a 48 yard gain.

Hate to see a great comeback wasted.

(4)  2008, Week 8 @ Panthers

Result: 27-23 loss

The Game: Considering the Cardinals' lack of success on the east coast -- their previous game was the 56-35 pounding at the hands of the Jets -- the hopes for this battle with the then-impressive Panthers were quite low. But then the game started.

Arizona opened the third quarter with a Tim Hightower rushing touchdown to give themselves a 17-3 lead and (what seemed like) control of the game. A quick TD drive by Carolina, an Edgerrin James fumble deep in Cardinals territory, and a TD pass to Steve Smith wiped the lead out in exactly four minutes.

Yet on the next drive, the Cardinals marched right down the field and Warner found Anquan Boldin -- who had just returned from his facial surgery -- to give the Cardinals a six-point lead.

The Heartbreak: The heartbreak in this one was more than a quarter long with plenty to choose from, so I'm going to have to use bullet points.

  • Following the Boldin touchdown, Cardinals holder Dirk Johnson bobbled the hold for the extra point and the Cards didn't get an attempt. Cardinals only up by six.
  • Three plays later, Jake Delhomme found Steve Smith near the sidelines and after about 37 (check the 2:22 mark of this) missed tackles by the Cardinals, Smith cruised in for a 65-yard touchdown.
  • On the Cardinals' first drive of the fourth quarter, they made it down to the Panthers 15 before a Warner pass tipped off the hands of JJ Arrington and was intercepted by Jon Beason.
  • After punting with 6:05 left and down four, the Cardinals needed one stop to get the ball back. But the Panthers rammed the ball down their throat for six minutes while traveling only 45 yards. Game.

Arizona would get their revenge in the playoffs, but boy did this suck at the time. 

(3) Week 9, 2010 Cardinals @ Vikings

Result: 27-24 loss (OT)

The Game: Yup, this makes two of the five heartbreaking losses in the past two games. It's been a rough couple weeks for my heart -- and my liver.

The Vikings came into this game as the absolute definition of a hot mess. Brett Favre has been perpetually banged-up, the team released Randy Moss, and embattled coach Brad Childress allegedly had a run in with wideout Percy Harvin just before the game.

When the Cardinals produced a 30-yard touchdown pass to Andre Roberts just before halftime, it looked like they might actually be able to capitalize on the Vikings ineptitude. When the second half opened with Harvin getting stripped by O'Brien Schofield and watching Michael Adams return the fumble for a touchdown, it looked even better.

All the breaks kept going the Cardinals' way. First, Favre forced a pass into Jim Kleinsasser when Minnesota was on the Arizona 2 and Rashad Johnson came up with an interception. Then the Cardinals actually put together a field goal drive to put themselves up 14 with 12:40 remaining.

Minnesota drove right down the field again on their next drive, but Favre's Fourth and Goal pass fell incomplete to give Arizona the ball back. Game over!

The Heartbreak: When I say "game over," I mean in the Super Mario Brothers sense -- you know how you get another life, even after you fall in the lava. Well, yesterday, the Cardinals provided the Vikings with the ultimate reset button.

Like with the Panthers game, let's break this one down bullet-point style:

  • First, the Cards went three and out, including a drop on a swing pass to Tim Hightower that may actually have resulted in a first down, provided he could shake an ankle tackle.
  • It took the Vikings all of four plays and 1:05 to drive the 40 yards necessary to cut the Cardinal lead to seven. You'd think the one thing a defense would try to do is prevent a team from gaining yards in chunks. Not this time.
  • On the ensuing Cardinal drive, they again went nowhere and barely used any time doing it, though a strong solo tackle from Lito Sheppard did prevent Fitzgerald from picking up a first down.
  • Remember that rule about not allowing yards in chunks? Consider it violated again on the final Minnesota drive. Starting on their own 23, Minnesota ripped off four plays of 15+ yards, including a touchdown pass down the middle to Visanthe Shiancoe to tie the game. Fun note that Adrian Wilson was with Shiancoe every step of the way until turning the wrong way on the ball to help allow the score.
  • The Cards won the toss, but momentum was long dead. Arizona went three and out, including a pair of sacks before punting away.
  • Two more 15+ yard plays later and the Vikings were in position to hit the game winning field goal.

Up 14 with 4:39 to go. They lose. Ugh.

(2) Week 12, 2009 Cardinals @ Titans

Result: 20-17 loss

The Game: It's not completely fair since this was a lowered expectations game, but the method of losing was tremendous.

Following a concussion suffered the previous week, Kurt Warner sat out the game for precautionary reasons. That plugged Matt Leinart into the lineup for the first time in over a year. Since Warner was expected to play all week, Leinart came in having barely taken a snap in practices.

Early in the game, the Cardinals played an extremely conservative brand of offense and by the third quarter, they found themselves trailing 13-3. LaRod Stephens-Howling changed things in a hurry.

LSH returned a kick 99 yards for a touchdown to trim the Titan lead to three and after a three and out, the Cardinals offense was back on the field. This time coach Whisenhunt opened up the offense for Leinart a bit and the Cards took the lead with a fourth quarter TD. 

With 2:37 left to play in the game and the score held at 17-13, LSH continued his special teams dominance by downing a Ben Graham punt on the one yard line.

The Heartbreak: Now the heartbreaking part of this game wasn't necessarily the fact that the Cardinals lost, because frankly it was expected, with a hot Titans team at home facing a rusty backup QB -- it was the method. And in this case, it was the last drive. 

In three plays, the Titans moved six yards and faced a Fourth and 4 on their own seven. Then, in a play that served as a microcosm of Bryant McFadden's one-year Cardinal career, Vince Young threw towards the back of McFadden's head -- otherwise known as Kenny Britt -- and Britt made the play while McFadden refused to get his head around.

But that was only the first of three fourth down conversions by Tennessee, with the final one being the worst of all. 

With a Fourth and 10 from the Cardinals' 10-yard-line and just six seconds remaining, Vince Young scrambled around the pocket for a few seconds before finding a leaping Britt in the back of the end zone for a game winning score. At the buzzer.

(1) 2007, Week 12 v. San Francisco 49ers

Result: 37-31 loss (OT)

The Game: This was a solidly back and forth affair with six lead changes. San Fran took the largest lead of the game when they were up 10 in the middle of the second quarter, but the Cardinals produced a couple touchdowns, including an end of half Hail Mary from Warner to Fitz to grab the lead.

An Arnaz Battle 57-yard touchdown pass from replacement starter Trent Dilfer put the Niners ahead as the third quarter expired, but the slingin' Tim Rattay -- who was playing QB in goal line situations with Warner's banged up elbow -- found Ben Patrick at the beginning of the fourth to put the Cardinals back up.

All looked relatively lost when Frank Gore ran in a 35-yard TD with a minute and 15 seconds left, but the Cards found their way down to the Niners one with just six seconds left. Neil Rackers tied the game and sent it to overtime.

On the Cardinals second drive of overtime, Warner found Sean Morey, who ran 62 yards before being chased down by Patrick Willis at the Niners 24. A few Edgerrin James runs later, the Cardinals were in position to win the game.

The Heartbreak: Now with the ball at the San Francisco nine yard line, Arizona lined up for a 27-yard field goal on second down. Somehow, the Cards took a delay of game penalty, which move the field goal back to 32 yards. Still well in range for a professional kicker.

Neil Rackers again stepped up to the plate and again missed a field goal wide left.

Four plays later, Arizona had the ball back on their own three, but Ronald Fields stripped Kurt Warner and Tully Banta-Cain recovered in the end zone to end the game.

The Cards came into this game with a .500 record and nipping on the heels of the Seahawks.  If you were looking at the honorable mention games, you'll note that this was the Cardinals second loss of the season to the Niners. A Niners team that finished the season 5-11.

Arizona would go on to finish the season 8-8. Think those two Niners losses hurt? Seattle won the division at 10-6 and the second wild card team finished 9-7. Ouch.