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Big Red Recap: Cardinals clinch NFC West with Sunday win over Eagles

Arizona Cardinals' John Brown scores a touchdown during the second half of an NFL football game against the Philadelphia Eagles, Sunday, Dec. 20, 2015, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

The hats and t-shirts are in their possession.

The Arizona Cardinals are NFC West champions.

They clinched their first division title since 2009 with a 40-17 primetime victory over the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on NBC’s Sunday Night Football.

The win was the Cardinals eighth in a row and established franchise records for victories in a season (12) and on the road (seven).

David Johnson topped 100 yards rushing (187) for the first time in his career and scored three times, while Carson Palmer completed 20-of-32 passes for 274 yards and a touchdown.

His numbers would’ve—and perhaps should’ve—been better if not for a half-dozen drops by his receivers.

Defensively, the Cardinals forced four turnovers, including three on consecutive Eagles (6-8) possessions in the second half.

With the game tied at 10 midway through the second quarter, the Cardinals (12-2) scored 27 unanswered points to pull away and ultimately reach the 40-point mark for the fourth time this season.

Now that the division has been wrapped up, the Cardinals can set their sights on the 2-seed and the first-round bye that comes with it in the playoffs.

THE GOOD

With two first-half scores, Johnson set the franchise single-season record for most touchdowns by a rookie with 11. He found the end zone with runs of one yard and 47 yards; the latter of which he broke two tackles and stiff-armed E.J. Biggers to free himself down the sideline. Tim Hightower (2008) and Otis Anderson (1979) had shared the previous rookie mark of 10 touchdowns. By the way, Johnson totaled 87 yards on his first 12 carries.

With his first-quarter catch of 18 yards, Larry Fitzgerald extended the NFL’s longest active streak and franchise record of at least one reception to 177 straight games. Fitzgerald caught three balls for 43 yards in the first half, leaving him one shy of 100 with two games left in the regular season. When that mark is reached, he will become only the ninth player in NFL history to record 100-plus receptions in at least three different seasons.

On three consecutive second-half possessions, the Cardinals defense took the ball away from the Eagles. Frostee Rucker and D.J. Swearinger recovered fumbles, while Deone Buccannon recorded a 39-yard pick-6. For Buccannon, it was his first career interception, pro or college, and made the score 37-10 at 14:50 of the fourth quarter. Meanwhile, the two fumbles were caused by MarKus Golden (strip-sack, 3.5 this season) and Josh Mauro.

It would appear as if the Cardinals have solved, hopefully permanently, their recent issues on 3rd-and-short yardage. Nine times the Cardinals needed three yards or less to gain a first down. Eight times they converted with five passing and three rushing plays. The biggest play was a third-quarter, 28-yard catch by Michael Floyd on 3rd-and-2 at the Philadelphia 30 which led to a touchdown. For the game, the Cardinals were 8-of-14 on third down.

THE BAD

Instead of two sure-touchdowns, John Brown had two inexplicable drops through the Cardinals first two possessions. On the very first snap of the game, Brown had his man beat but dropped a deep ball and likely a 78-yard score. Then, on 3rd-and-5 at the Philadelphia 6, Brown, running the fade route, had the ball go off his fingers and fall to the ground in the end zone. Brown entered the game 105 yards shy of 1,000 for the season.

Of Sam Bradford’s 148 first-half passing yards (he was 15-of-20), nearly half went to receiver Jordan Matthews, who caught six passes for 70 yards through the first two quarters. Among his grabs were a 30-yard catch on 3rd-and-9 and a 14-yard catch on 3rd-and-14, both of which came during the Eagles’ opening possession of the game. That drive ended with a Caleb Sturgis 36-yard field goal to cut the Cardinals’ lead to 7-3 at 6:00 of the first quarter.

There appeared to be some confusion in the Cardinals secondary just prior to Bradford’s second-quarter 22-yard touchdown pass to Zach Ertz. In fact, replays showed 1) the Cardinals had only 10 men on the field and 2) Calais Campbell was attempting to call timeout. Unfortunately, no officials saw the 6-8 Campbell signal time before the snap of the football. The four-play, 53-yard drive made the score 10-10 with 8:26 remaining in the first half.

For the fourth time this season, kicker Chandler Catanzaro missed a point-after-touchdown (PAT). He pushed the 33-yard extra point attempt to the right after Johnson’s third rushing touchdown. So, instead of a 24-10 lead, the Cardinals went up 23-10 at 9:48 of the third quarter. Catanzaro finished the game 4-of-5 on PATs and is now 48-of-52 on the season, meaning he has missed twice as many extra point tries as field goal attempts (27-of-29) through Week 15.

STAT OF THE GAME

230: The number of Cardinals rushing yards, setting a new season-high; they averaged 5.9 yards on 39 carries

HE SAID IT

“It’s a good-looking hat,” Palmer told Paul Calvisi in the Cardinals locker room, referencing the NFC West division championship hat that was handed out following the game.

NOTED

– Johnson’s 187 rushing yards were the most by a Cardinal since Beanie Wells’ club record of 228 at St. Louis in 2011

– Palmer (right index finger) exited the game for one third-quarter snap; Drew Stanton entered and threw incomplete on 3rd down

– Brown was targeted a team-high six times but had zero catches in the first half. He did have three critical drops.

– Sean Weatherspoon knocked Bradford out of the game for one first-quarter snap with a big hit on the Eagles’ first drive.

– A.Q. Shipley made his first start of the season, getting the nod at center with Lyle Sendlein dealing with a knee injury.

– The Cardinals improved to 5-0 in primetime games this season and 7-2 in primetime games under head coach Bruce Arians.

– The Cardinals improved to 24-5 against teams outside the division, including a 5-1 mark against the NFC East, under Arians.

– Arizona joined the New England Patriots (5-1) as the only teams in the NFL with at least five primetime wins this season.

– The Cardinals became the first team to go 5-0 or better in primetime games in a season since the Indianapolis Colts (5-0) in 2009.

– Among the Cardinals inactives were safety Rashad Johnson and running back Andre Ellington; both out due to injury.

UP NEXT

It’s the first of back-to-back home games to close out the regular season.

The Cardinals host the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, Dec. 27. Kickoff is scheduled for 2:25 p.m. with pregame coverage beginning four hours earlier on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.

It’s the 75th all-time meeting between the franchises.

The Packers have won three of the last four, seven of the last nine and nine of the last 12 contests against the Cardinals. However, in games played in Arizona, the Cardinals have fared much better, going 2-1 in the previous three matchups.

In their most recent victory in the series, a first-round playoff game in 2009, the Cardinals won 51-45 in overtime on Karlos Dansby’s 17-yard fumble return.

After an incompletion and a short gain, Michael Adams sacked Aaron Rodgers on 3rd-and-6, forcing the turnover. Dansby picked up the loose football and ran 17 yards for the game-winning score just 78 seconds into the extra period.

In that game, Kurt Warner threw for more touchdowns (five) than incompletions (four). Fitzgerald and Early Doucet each caught two touchdowns, while Steve Breaston was on the receiving end for the other.

The 51 points were the most the Cardinals have ever scored against the Packers.

Overall, the Packers lead 23-47-4 in a series that dates back to 1921.

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