And they’re in.
With a 23-20 victory over Minnesota on Thursday night, the Arizona Cardinals clinched a playoff spot for a second straight season and moved one game closer to winning the NFC West.
Carson Palmer passed for 310 yards and two touchdowns, David Johnson rushed for 92 yards and the defense forced three turnovers in front of sold out—and an open roofed—University of Phoenix Stadium and national television audience.
The win was secured when Dwight Freeney, using his signature spin move, strip-sacked Teddy Bridgewater as the Vikings (8-5) drove for the game-tying field goal or perhaps go-ahead score. The Cardinals recovered with just seconds left on the game clock.
Palmer was 25-of-35 with touchdown tosses to John Brown (65 yards) and Michael Floyd (42 yards); the 30th and 31st of the season, setting a single-season franchise record for passing touchdowns.
Floyd caught five balls for 102 yards, topping the 100-yard receiving mark for the fourth time in his past five games.
It was the Cardinals (11-2) seventh straight victory—and second in five days—which is tied for the third-longest in team history and longest such streak since 1974.
By the way, the 11 regular season wins have matched a franchise-high.
Bridgewater threw for a career-high 335 yards, while Adrian Peterson was held to 69 yards on 23 carries.
The Cardinals, 4-0 in primetime games this season, can clinch their first division title since 2009 if Seattle loses or ties the Ravens in Baltimore on Sunday.
On the very first snap of the game, Larry Fitzgerald caught a five-yard pass to extend his franchise record of at least one reception to 176 straight games, the longest active streak in the league. Fitzgerald caught two more balls before the end the first half. He finished with five (for 41 yards), leaving him four shy of 100 on the season.
Inside two minutes of the second quarter and the Vikings driving for a potential go-ahead score, Calais Campbell sacked Bridgewater on 3rd-and-10 at the Arizona 15 for an 11-yard loss. Minnesota settled for a field goal, tying the game at 10 at the half. For Campbell, it was his 46th career sack, the fifth-most in franchise history.
Prior to Freeney’s strip-sack, the defense had forced two fumbles. First, Deone Bucannon poked the ball out of Jarius Wright’s arms and recovered the ball. Then, Josh Mauro stripped Peterson of the ball, which was recovered by Alex Okafor. The latter turnover was converted into points, Floyd’s 42-yard catch and run touchdown.
Cool moment for him, but it came at the Cardinals’ expense. Peterson’s nine-yard first-quarter touchdown was his 100th career score (95 rushing, five receiving), putting him in some pretty exclusive company. He joined Pro Football Hall of Famers Jim Brown and Emmitt Smith plus LaDainian Tomlinson as the only players in NFL history with at least 10,000 rushing yards and 100 total touchdowns in the first 117 games to begin a career.
Facing a 3rd-and-goal at the Arizona 7, Bridgewater found a wide open Mike Wallace, who beat Justin Bethel for a touchdown. The PAT tied the game at 20 with 4:55 to play in the fourth quarter. It was the Vikings’ third red-zone trip and second time they scored seven rather than three points when inside the 20-yard line.
The league’s second-worst passing attack at 179.1 yards per game exploded for 335 yards as Bridgewater completed 25-of-36 passes plus a touchdown. His best quarter was the second, when he missed just two receivers, going 7-of-9 for 114 yards. His first-half quarterback rating was 114.9.
STAT OF THE GAME
3: The number of Cardinals takeaways, all forced fumbles and none bigger than Freeney’s strip-sack, the 115.5th sack of his career, moving him past Robert Mathis for 19th place on the NFL’s all-time list
HE SAID IT
“We found a way to win. Good teams do that. We’ll take it,” said head coach Bruce Arians, who received permission to wear his trademark “Gatsby” hat on the sideline for the first time in his head-coaching career
– Mike Iupati–off a deflection—caught his first career NFL pass, which he then ran 10 yards for a first down.
– Brittan Golden exited the game early in the fourth quarter and was being evaluated for a concussion.
– The Cardinals have 11 wins in back-to-back seasons for the first time in franchise history and fifth time overall.
– They have secured a winning record both at home (5-1) and on the road (6-1) for the first time since 1976.
– Arizona has secured a winning record at home for the third straight season and sixth time in 10 seasons.
– The Cards improved to 23-5 against teams outside the division, including 5-0 vs. the NFC North, under Arians.
– Among the Cardinals’ inactives were defensive starters Jerraud Powers and Frostee Rucker plus running back Andre Ellington and tight end Jermaine Gresham; all due to injury.
It’s back on the road for one final time, at least in the regular season.
The Cardinals travel to Philadelphia for a primetime matchup against the Eagles on Sunday, Dec. 20. Kickoff is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. with pregame coverage beginning four hours earlier on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.
It’s the 120th all-time meeting between the two franchises with the Cardinals holding a 58-56-5 advantage in a series that dates back to 1935.
The Cardinals have won four of the past five, including last season, 24-20, when John Brown caught a 75-yard touchdown pass—what proved to be the game-winning play—with 1:21 remaining.
Their current run of success against the Eagles began with a victory in the 2008 NFC Championship Game, 32-25, that sent the Cardinals to their first-ever Super Bowl.
Heading east to Philadelphia, however, has been a struggle for the Cardinals, who have but just one road win (2011) in their last four tries against the Eagles.
This game marks the second time this season the Cardinals have been “flexed” into NBC’s Sunday Night Football, and the second time this season the Cardinals will be featured on the national stage in consecutive weeks.
The move gives the Cardinals a franchise-record five primetime appearances here in 2015, all of which will have occurred in a span of eight games: Week 7 vs. Baltimore (MNF), Week 10 at Seattle (SNF), Week 11 vs. Cincinnati (SNF), Week 14 vs. Minnesota (TNF) and Week 15 at Philadelphia (SNF).
The Cardinals also played in a nationally-televised preseason game on NBC at Oakland on August 30.
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