Wrap-up: Cardinals 30, Vikings 17

Last month, I watched Arizona beat the daylights out of Chicago. Sunday night, the same thing happened to Minnesota. The Vikings got smacked around on every level during a 30-17 loss, and, worse, finished with three of their defensive starters out of the game.

That list included middle linebacker E.J. Henderson, who was carted off the field with what appeared to be a serious left leg injury. More on that in an upcoming post.

I can’t think of one thing the Vikings did better than the Cardinals on Sunday night. They were outmuscled on both lines of scrimmage, netting 62 rush yards while never sacking Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner in 32 pass attempts. Their top-ranked special teams gave up a 64-yard punt return in the first quarter, setting off a 30-3 scoring run by the Cardinals.

Most surprisingly, the Vikings were outschemed by an Arizona defense that had quarterback Brett Favre confused all evening, forcing his first two interceptions since the end of October. Cardinals safety Adrian Wilson dropped two other possible interceptions as Favre struggled through his worst game of the season, making it difficult to completely discount the stamina issue we first considered last spring.

(For those who forgot: Favre’s performance has dipped precipitously after his 11th game in each of the past four seasons. Sunday night was game 12 of 2009.)

The loss left Minnesota two games behind New Orleans for the top record in the NFC, meaning it will be very difficult for the Vikings to clinch home-field advantage in the playoffs. Keep in mind that the Cardinals (8-4) are only two games behind the Vikings. Should the Vikings fade over the final four games -- and their schedule isn’t easy -- the Cardinals would win the head-to-head tiebreaker for playoff positioning.

Remaining on the Vikings’ schedule is a home game against 9-3 Cincinnati, night games at Carolina and Chicago, and the season finale against the New York Giants at the Metrodome. It’s important not to hit the panic button after any loss, but the Vikings definitely have their work cut out for them to sustain a dream season.