SEATTLE — For a team that preached finishing this week, the Arizona Cardinals certainly had the starting part down.
The Cardinals have struggled to close out games this season, so they spent much of the past week, players said, focusing on finishing games.
It was the way Arizona started, however, that played the biggest role in its 27-3 victory over the Seahawks.
The Cardinals won the coin toss, an apparent harbinger of the good things that were about to happen.
They took the opening drive 80 yards, burning 10 minutes, 42 seconds off the game clock. Kurt Warner was 9-for-9 on the drive, and the Seahawks were unable to stop the Cardinals on all five of their third-down plays.
Then, when it seemed like the Seahawks would finally get the ball back and have a chance to answer, Arizona kicker Neil Rackers lofted a high, short kickoff that landed near Seahawks tight end John Owens, and was recovered by Arizona’s Greg Toler.
It was a play the Cardinals have used before, and one that the Seahawks had pointed out on film this week. Yet the Cardinals still ended up with the ball, and three plays later, a 14-0 lead.
“We showed it to them on film yesterday morning,” Seahawks coach Jim Mora said. “It’s a nice kick. Rackers put it right where it had to be, and they executed and we didn’t.”
The Seahawks offense finally took the field with 3:07 left in the first quarter, but on the third play of the possession, Matt Hasselbeck was sacked and fumbled, giving Arizona the ball at the Seahawks’ 23-yard line.
Seattle finished the first quarter with just 43 seconds of possession to the Cardinals 14 minutes and 17 seconds.
Seattle’s defense managed to limit Arizona to a field goal, but by then the damage had been done. The Seahawks never recovered from that early deficit.
Down 17-0, the Seahawks were forced to throw the ball in an attempt to play catch-up, and the Cardinals defense took advantage of Seattle’s one-dimension attack by putting constant pressure on quarterback Matt Hasselbeck. Playing behind the team’s fourth different starting offensive line in six games, Hasselbeck was under duress all afternoon and was sacked five times.
“It’s very hard,” Mora said of playing from behind. “Especially against a team like this, being in the situation that we’re in up front. You allow them, when you’re playing from behind, to pin them back and come after you, and that’s a worst-case scenario for us right now. So it makes it very difficult to overcome.”
On a day woefully short of highlights, the Seahawks managed a big one midway through the second quarter on a fake-punt pass from punter Jon Ryan to tight end John Carlson. The play gained 42 yards.
“It was a play we had in this week,” Ryan said. Special teams coach Bruce DeHaven “saw something in the film, he drew up a good play and he called it at the right time. We executed it well and it worked.”
Carlson was wide open on the play for two reasons. One, Ryan’s previous punt had traveled 54 yards, so the Cardinals backed up their returner, Steve Breaston. Also, Arizona showed an eight-man front, apparently to pressure Ryan’s kick.
“It was the front that we wanted and Jon made a nice pass,” Carlson said.
Carlson faked a block and headed downfield. After taking Ryan’s pass, he eluded Breaston before Arizona’s Michael Adams made a touchdown-saving tackle.
It was the second career NFL pass for Ryan, who is in his fourth season. He threw a pass as a rookie with Green Bay in 2006, also a completion.
Ryan was one of the few Seahawks to play well on Sunday. In addition to his pass completion, he punted eight times for a 45.0 average, with four kicks of 50 yards or better and two of 60 or better.
Small consolation, Ryan said.
“Getting beat like that is not a good feeling,” he said. “If I kick terribly and we win, I’m happy. So it doesn’t make me feel any better, no.”
Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner threw for 276 yards on Sunday and tied the NFL record for fewest games needed to reach 30,000 passing yards.
Warner finished Sunday’s game with 30,032 career passing yards. It was the 114th game of his 12-year NFL career, matching Dan Marino for fewest games needed to reach 30,000 yards.
Warner spent six seasons with St. Louis and one with the New York Giants before signing with Arizona as a free agent in 2005. He has thrown for 2,327 yards in eight games against Seattle, winning four of them.