The Arizona Cardinals had the best record in football for most of the 2014 regular season. They kept winning despite a nagging shoulder issue that sidelined Pro Bowl quarterback Carson Palmer for nearly a month at the start of the year. He came back and played great until suffering a season-ending knee injury. No one knew it yet but that was the beginning of the end. Palmer’s injury was followed by season-ending injuries to backup quarterback Drew Stanton and starting runningback Andre Ellington. The Cardinals didn’t make excuses, but they did lose four of their last six games and limp into the playoffs, literally and figuratively, as a wildcard team few thought would last long
Led by third string quarterback Ryan Lindley and a totally anonymous backfield, Arizona rose to the challenge and put together a historic performance against the Carolina Panthers. Isn’t it funny how, depending on context, a word like historic can have very different meanings? It might indicate something glorious, extravagant and monumental. Or, in the case of the Cardinals, it could define colossal and yes, historic failure.
The final score was 27 to 16 but the game was never really that close. Absolutely nothing went right for Arizona. Even the punter had a bad day. I didn’t realize just how bad until the play-by-play announcer said, “That was the fifth punt of 33 yards or les so far tonight.” I’ve seen my daughter kick a ball a lot further than that and she’s 12. As for the offense…. Let me put it this way. They lost about as many yards (20) on the final play of the game as they’d gained on any single play up to that point. In case you’re wondering, their biggest play from scrimmage was a 21 yard reception by rookie receiver John Brown. The vast majority of the Cardinals’ plays didn’t go anywhere near that far. They finished the first half with just 65 yards of total offense, and added just 12 more the rest of the game. I’ll do the math for you. That’s a second half average of 6 yards per quarter or about two steps for the average adult male. If there’s one stat that truly sums up their appalling, almost incomprehensible level of ineptitude it’s this. They ran 47 plays and gained a net total of 77 yards. That’s 1.63 yards per play. You’d think they could have done better had they just fallen forward 47 times in a row. It was, without exception, the worst offensive performance in the history of the NFL playoffs. Let’s put it in perspective. The Baltimore Ravens, in their Wildcard Weekend matchup against Pittsburgh, gained more yards on their first scoring drive than the Cardinals gained in their entire game.
We knew Wildcard Weekend would be interesting because it featured several teams that aren’t used to winning in the post season. The Lions beat the Cowboys in the divisional round in 1991. That’s significant because they haven’t won a playoff game since. They’d been back seven times. This year makes it eight. and they lost all eight of those games. Did this totally bizarre reversal on a blatant pass interference play change the outcome of this year’s game against Dallas? We’ll never know and one of the teams had to win. The Cowboys’ recent playoff history isn’t much better than Detroit’s. A win over the Eagles in 2009 snapped a six-game post season drought that dated all the way back to 1996. The Cincinnati Bengals have been struggling with their own playoff woes. Since 2009, they’ve qualified for the post season all but one year. They were one and done every time. The last time Cincinnati actually won a playoff game, Boomer Esiason was the quarterback and the opponent was a Houston Oilers team that no longer exists.
Okay, it’s playoff time so, for the few weeks we have left, I’ll focus on some classic football party foods. This week’s Game Day recipe is for Fiesta taco Dip. I’ll give you the basics along with some suggestions on how you might jazz things up a bit. The minimum ingredients list is as follows:
8 oz. cream cheese
1 oz. (1 packet) taco seasoning
4 oz. sour cream
2 cups shredded lettuce
8 oz. shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup freshly chopped or canned diced tomatoes
1 small can sliced black olives
corn or tortilla chips
In a small bowl, combine cream cheese, sour cream and taco seasoning and blend with an electric mixer until smooth. Spread evenly onto a large serving tray (preferably one with slightly raised edges). Layer remaining ingredients, starting with the lettuce and ending with the black olives. If that’s good enough for you, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least an hour. However, if you care to kick it up a notch, you could make your first layer (after the cream cheese mixture) refried beans. I go with the spicy ones and season them with an additional packet of taco seasoning. You can add a layer of meat as well. Ground beef, sausage or turkey all work well, browned and seasoned any way you want. To me, no taco dip is complete without some diced jalapeno peppers. Peppadews are nice too. They’re not as hot but have a wonderful tang. Top it all off with some chopped green peppers, grab the corn chips and dig in. Like I said, it’s playoff time. Go big or go home!
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