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Fourth quarter woes that cost team in losses weren’t a problem on Sunday

Cardinals outside linebacker Chandler Jones tackles 49ers quarterback Brian Hoyer on Sunday.
When crunch time came in past years, the Cardinals’ defense was usually the one dropping the hammer.

But in fourth quarter losses to the Lions and Cowboys earlier this season, it was the one getting squashed. The Cardinals were determined to get back to their late-game ways, and did so in Sunday’s 18-15 overtime win over the 49ers.

The defense didn’t allow a first down in the fourth quarter to give the offense every chance to win the game, and even though that didn’t happen, it didn’t break. San Francisco got the ball first in overtime and put together an impressive drive, but the Cardinals forced a field goal near the goal-line when a touchdown would have ended it.

“That,” linebacker Karlos Dansby said, “is how we’re supposed to play.”

The Cardinals led by two in the fourth quarter against Detroit but gave up a pair of touchdowns in just over five minutes as Detroit took control. Last week, the Cowboys broke open a tie game with 14 points in a seven-minute span in the fourth. The 49ers, meanwhile, scored three points in the final 29 minutes of this contest.

“We made it a big emphasis, that in that fourth quarter, that’s when we’ve got to rise up,” money linebacker Deone Bucannon said. “The first three quarters, we were lights out those first three games. … I’m happy we came out with the win. We played all four quarters.”

The defense has to be the engine for the Cardinals right now because of all the injuries and inconsistency on the other side of the ball (though it did suffer one of its own when linebacker Markus Golden left the game late with a knee injury). Success has shown up in spurts throughout 2017 but there have been too many lapses.

Red zone woes were a big problem through the first three games, as the Cardinals were last in the league, allowing touchdowns on 87.5 percent of possessions inside the 20. They didn’t allow the 49ers in the end zone at all on Sunday, allowing for the late-game heroics by Larry Fitzgerald.

“They didn’t give up any touchdowns, so that’s a pretty good day,” coach Bruce Arians said.

The Cardinals only had one takeaway – an interception by safety Antoine Bethea – but came close to a couple others. Cornerback Justin Bethel couldn’t corral a pass early in the game, and Dansby didn’t see another heading his way until it was too late.

St. Louis Cardinals

CLEVELAND, OH – SEPTEMBER 27: The Minnesota Twins celebrate after clinching the second Wild Card spot of the American League after at Progressive Field on September 27, 2017 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Indians defeated the Twins 4-2. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

The St. Louis Cardinals are not playing in the postseason but the non-capitalized version of their name offers a prudent view of the impending competitions.

The St. Louis Cardinals failed to live up to the potential of its individual parts in 2017. This cardinal failure was the undoing of the 2017 team leaving them watching the postseason from their individual homes.

Ah, a play on words to kick off October… For those not in the know, the lower case version of the word usually reserved for the name of a bird carries with it the definition, “of greatest importance; fundamental” when used as an adjective. Hence the play on the word in the title of this post and in that first paragraph above.

Keeping with the title, then, let us take a cardinal look at the competitions now solidly slated for the 2017 postseason to begin this very week.

Additionally, I will insert the 2017 St. Louis Cardinals in the NL side of things where they might have slotted should they have (1) played better this season, (2) suffered fewer bullpen meltdowns, and/or (3) had a different manager. All of these suppositions are simple “what-ifs” but are worth taking a look for giggle-sake.

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