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Dealing Cards: If this was it for Calais Campbell, what a way to go out

Arizona Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell (93) celebrates his sack of New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 18, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — If Sunday was indeed Calais Campbell’s final home game as a member of the Arizona Cardinals, he put on quite a show.

Campbell finished the 48-41 loss to the New Orleans Saints with two sacks, two tackles for loss, a pair of QB hits and a fumble recovery that he took back 53 yards for a touchdown.

The long-time Cardinal is set to become a free agent at the end of the season, and he has understood all along that there’s a chance he is not back.

So again, if this was his swan song — minus the loss — it was a solid way to go out, with a touchdown.

“Before the game, I was getting chills in my back just thinking about the honor I’ve had to be able to play with this group of men and for this organization for as long as I have,” Campbell said after the game. “It’s been a complete honor being in this locker room and feeling all the history, it felt great.

“I’ll tell you, when you’re out there playing football, when you have good players like that, those mean the world. They’re things you’ll remember forever. I wish we did it in a win, but it definitely feels good making a play like that.”

Campbell credited teammate Markus Golden, whose sack of Drew Brees led to the fumble, and said he told himself after picking it up that as long as Peyton Manning was not on the field, he should be able to score a touchdown.

Manning, you may recall, tackled Campbell after an interception in 2014 when it seemed like the defensive lineman had a pretty clear path to the end zone.

On the play, Campbell was nearly caught from behind by Saints running back Tim Hightower, who along with Campbell joined the Cardinals as part of the team’s 2008 draft class. The defensive lineman said he felt Hightower getting close, which is why he pulled the ball up just a bit when he got to the end zone.

“But I told him that if he knocked the ball out of my hands we wouldn’t have been friends no longer,” Campbell joked.

It was Campbell’s first NFL touchdown in nine seasons, all with the Cardinals.

Larry Fitzgerald, who has been a teammate of Campbell’s for the defensive lineman’s entire career, noted there are two games left but that he’s hoping this is not it for him in Arizona. Fitzgerald said Campbell is “a wonderful person” who has done plenty both on the field and off it for the organization.

“He’s a valued member of our franchise,” he added.

With his two sacks Sunday, Campbell moved past Simeon Rice and into second place on the Cardinals’ all-time sacks list, with 54.5, and also extended his record for most seasons with at least six sacks by a defensive lineman, which is now up to seven.

A two-time Pro Bowler, he is wrapping up another good season — and quite possibly his career in Arizona.

As much as he’s thought about that, he said when he’s on the field his focus turns to competing with the team, living in the moment. But whether or not this was his last home game, he understands it’s possible.

“I have no idea — the harsh reality is it could be,” he said. “I really hope it’s not, but we’ll see how that goes come offseason. But we still have two more games to finish, and I’m excited to play those games and I’ll give it my all every time I’m out there.”

How about other guys?

Campbell is not the only Cardinal starter who may not be back, though a couple other important players whose returns are in question are not set to become free agents. They are just, simply, at a point in their careers where nothing can be assumed.

Speculation about both QB Carson Palmer, who turns 37 later this month, and Fitzgerald has swirled some, with some wondering if they will play again in 2017.

Both are under contract, though that does not necessarily mean they will be back.

According to Palmer, however, he has not really thought about whether or not his career will continue.

“I haven’t even thought about that, but I expect to, I’d like to,” he said.

The 33-year-old Fitzgerald, however, was a bit more vague.

“I got two more games to go,” he said. “I will play those games as hard as I can against two division opponents and we will see what goes on this offseason. My attention is solely focused on Seattle this Saturday.”

Finishing up the home slate with an L

Since University of Phoenix Stadium opened in 2006, the Cardinals have been a pretty good home team.

Under Bruce Arians, they’ve been exceptional. Up until this season, at least.

Entering this season, the Cardinals had posted a 19-5 home record under Arians, with another victory being added if you include the playoffs. This season, however, they posted a 4-3-1 mark.

“Yeah, and to lose all close games,” Arians lamented. “Those are the ones we’ve always won, and I thought when we closed this one down and got it tied that we’d go out and get them stopped.”

The Cardinals finished with home wins over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the New York Jets, San Francisco 49ers and Washington Redskins. They recorded losses to the New England Patriots, Los Angeles Rams and Saints. They tied the Seattle Seahawks.

“This is a place where we’ve always prided ourselves on protecting and playing well and winning,” Fitzgerald said. “We’ve won a lot of tough, hard-fought games here over the years and just hearing that kind of makes me cringe because we are a much better team than we displayed this season, especially at home.

“This is a place where teams come in and should fear because we play that well here.”

The last time the Cardinals won their regular season home finale was in 2011, when they knocked off the Seahawks 23-20 in overtime. That team finished with an 8-8 record; this year’s team will finish with a worse mark.

“Totally. Completely surprised; it’s been a long season. It’s been a tough season,” Palmer said. “But, it’s pretty cool to get to go to Seattle on Christmas Eve and fight for a win there. It’s obviously a great team, it’s a division opponent and it’s a lot of fun to play in that atmosphere, as it is for opponents to come in here and play in this atmosphere.

“We’ll get to work on Seattle this week.”

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