The Arizona Cardinals opened the 2016 season with a two-point loss on a missed field goal versus the New England Patriots. The defeat was a harbinger of things to come in a disappointing 7-8-1 season for Bruce Arians' team.
Of the Cardinals' eight losses, five came by seven points or fewer.
Speaking on NFL Network's Good Morning Football on Wednesday to promote his new book The Quarterback Whisperer, Arians said he's focused this offseason on getting back to winning those tight tilts.
"You gotta win close games," he said. "The NFL is all about close games. And we had won more close games than anybody in the league previous years. And last year, we lost four games that we had -- three by kicks, one by just not playing smart. We could have been smarter. We spent all offseason practicing those scenarios that put you in critical situations so we can be a smarter football team."
In 2016, the Cardinals lost five one-score games, while winning just three contests of eight or fewer points (two three-point victories, one eight-point win). During their 13-3 2016 season, the results were more lopsided. Just five of Arizona's 13 wins that year came within eight points -- not counting the overtime playoff victory over the Packers. Just one of those three defeats were by fewer than 12 points.
Arians is correct to zero in on execution in close contests.
Per NFL Research, 146 of 256 games in 2016 were decided by eight points or fewer, the most such games in a season in NFL history. Of those contests, 72 were won by teams that trailed in the fourth quarter, the most in a single season in NFL history.
The Cardinals overhauled their roster this offseason, hoping to put the lost 2016 season behind them. Those changes included swapping kickers (veteran Phil Dawson in for Chandler Catanzaro) with the plans of eking out a few more close wins. The next step is moving past the mental errors that eroded their chances last season.