Would-a , could-a, should-a. As they close out the season today at home against the St. Louis Rams, the Cardinals can only think about opportunities missed.
In total, they add up to a chance missed to nail down their second playoff season in 20 years in Arizona.
They have had a remarkable number of games come down to the last few seconds; seven total, though that counts last week’s game vs. Atlanta, when they let a 10-point lead get away.
Surely, not every game got away.
They got a break early on, when a late fumbled exchange between Matt Hasselbeck and Shaun Alexander turned a likely loss to Seattle into a win.
And, in a win over Cleveland, the referees’ whistles were silent on a desperation pass into the end zone that was caught along the sideline by Kellen Winslow.
He tumbled out of bounds on a play that could have been ruled a touchdown and a force-out by the Cardinals.
But in four other games, one or two plays sent them to a loss.
If even one of them had gone the other way, the Cardinals would be sitting at 8-7, in the thick of the wild-card chase.
Instead, they’re on the outside looking in.
“The thing that stands out to me are the missed opportunities,” receiver Anquan Boldin said.
“There are probably three to four plays that are the difference in us sitting here at 9-6 or even 10-5,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said.
A look at those missed opportunities and errant plays that upended their season:
Sept. 10 at San Francisco
In the closing seconds, the Cardinals were desperately trying to preserve a 17-13 lead on “Monday Night Football.”
That’s when cornerback Eric Green found himself staring at a loose ball in the end zone.
Had Green jumped on it, he would have preserved the win. But he stumbled and couldn’t do it. The 49ers were awarded the ball at the 1-yard line and scored the game-winning touchdown.
At the time, Green and the Cardinals moaned that he should have batted the ball over the end line.
If he had done so, Green said moments later, “Game over. We’re 1-0. But there’s nothing I can do about it now.”
A subsequent review of the rules showed a player can’t intentionally knock the ball out of the end zone in the game’s closing minutes. The 49ers would have been given the ball at the 1-yard line.
Finding this out didn’t make Green feel any better. “I should have fallen on the ball.”
He tried to pick it up, but – because of the loose turf – the Cardinals were wearing extra-long spikes, “And my spikes got caught in the ground. I ran right over the ball.”
Then again, had he knocked the ball out of the end zone, would the refs have known the rules on the spot?
“Who knows?” Green said. “They may have called it, maybe not.”
Sept. 23 at Baltimore
Kurt Warner came off the bench to lead the Cardinals’ no-huddle offense — a move that surprised the Ravens — to 17 fourth-quarter points.
Those 17 points tied the score, 23-23.
The Cardinals, though, had two close calls go against them.
• A no-call as Bryant Johnson went up for a touchdown catch with two minutes left with the Ravens’ Corey Ivey hanging on him and appearing to make contact before the ball arrived.
Had the Cardinals scored, they would have led 27-23 instead of settling for a game-tying Neil Rackers’ field goal.
• An unnecessary roughness penalty on Adrian Wilson, who was ruled to have “launched” himself into a big hit on the Ravens’ Todd Heap.
That set up a game-winning field goal by the Ravens’ Matt Stover.
Oct. 21 at Washington
With the Cardinals down 21-19 in the closing seconds, Rackers successfully bounced an onside kick that was recovered by teammate Jerheme Urban.
That set up a Rackers’ 55-yard field-goal try to win it.
Surely, this attempt was — at the very best — a 50-50 proposition. Yet it was the kind of long field goal that Rackers used to convert regularly.
As has often been the case the past two years, the kick sailed just to the left.
Rackers left the stadium without talking to reporters.
Nov. 25 vs. San Francisco
This was the 2007 Cardinals’ Game From Hell.
They played sloppily against the lowly 49ers and found themselves down, 31-28, with six seconds left and the ball two feet from the Niners’ goal line.
They used their final timeout, even though the clock was stopped, in part because an instant replay was slow in coming and in part because the play clock was running down.
This limited their options, and they ended up settling for a short, game-tying field goal.
In overtime, the Cardinals won the toss, then both teams failed to score.
On the Cards’ second possession, Sean Morey took a short pass from Warner and raced down the right sideline for a 62-yard play.
This set up a 27-yard field goal attempt by Rackers for the win.
Inexplicably, the Cardinals were called for delay of game just before Rackers’ kick sailed through the uprights.
Both coach Ken Whisenhunt and holder Mike Barr took the blame.
Then Rackers lined up for a 32-yarder to win it. But, again, the kick sailed just left.
Rackers didn’t sound completely convinced the kick missed, saying, “It wasn’t right over the (left) upright … I guess I didn’t talk to that official enough, pregame.”
If one or two of these plays had gone the Cardinals’ way, they’d either be in the postseason or at least in the mix.
But they didn’t. And once again, they’re on the outside looking in.