GLENDALE, Ariz. -- And just like that, the season is over.
The Arizona Cardinals fell to the San Francisco 49ers by a score of 23-20, but Phil Dawson's 40-yard field goal was more of a formality than anything else because the New Orleans Saints had handily beaten the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
So just like that, the Cardinals finish the season 10-6, and have only next season to look forward to. Of course, this is the NFL, and not everyone will be back.
"I really hate to see this football team's season end because it's been so much fun working with them, because no team stays the same in the NFL anymore," Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said after the game. "There's so much change and turnover. We'll do everything we can to keep the core of this football team together because there are a lot of winners in this locker room and they learned how to win this year."
Of the 22 players who started for the Cardinals Sunday, six are set to become free agents. There is Eric Winston, Jim Dray and Rashard Mendenhall from the offense, and Matt Shaughnessy, Karlos Dansby and Yeremiah Bell from the defense.
And that does not include the multiple non-starters who are heading for free agency, including Andre Roberts and Jay Feely.
Naturally, there are some the Cardinals would like to bring back and others they are comfortable losing. But the decision may not be entirely up to them, with contract demands and such.
"You've got to try to keep everybody together but it's the NFL, it rarely happens," Dansby said. "It's going to be tough to keep all these guys here. But if we do, we've got something special."
Dansby is likely one of the players Arians is referring to when he talks about wanting to bring players back, and the 32-year-old said he would "love to come back" and be a part of what he thinks will be a bright future in Arizona.
Granted, the emotions following the game that ended less than an hour before likely play a role in a player saying he has no interest in skipping town. However, as Winston said, part of the excitement comes from how much the team improved over the course of the season and the knowledge that much of the issues that caused the team to get off to a slow start this season will be things of the past.
"I'm excited about that, I hope I'm here for it," he said. "It's something that I think is an exciting time for Arizona. I think you look around, you see a locker room full of a lot of young good players, some aging like myself. I think everybody has just laid it all on the line this season and I couldn't be more proud about this team."
The question is, how much of the team will return?
Chances are, some key guys will leave. And, conversely, the team will add some impact players. It's life in the NFL, and it happens every year.
"I hope that the organization does everything in its power to try to keep as many people on this team as possible," Darnell Dockett said. "We have a lot of guys that want to win. We have a lot of guys that will sacrifice to win.
"I've been in this organization for 10 years and there's a great group of guys on this team."
Dockett said players were willing to put in the amount of work necessary to be good, and thinks the team will be dangerous next season.
Thing is, it will be a different team.
"I know Steve (Keim) and Jason Licht and those guys have an idea of what they want to do, guys they want to bring back and draft, and I know they did a good job this year and they're going to do a good job moving forward," receiver Larry Fitzgerald said.