How the West Was Won Week 15: Arizona Cardinals clinch division
In 2014, the Arizona Cardinals got off to a 9-1 start, building a three-game lead over the Seattle Seahawks in the process.
Arizona, however, was besieged by injuries and couldn’t hold their lead, finishing 11-5 in second place behind the eventual NFC champions.
This year, once again, the Cardinals built a three-game lead over the Seahawks. Unlike 2014, Arizona has held that lead throughout.
The Cardinals clinched their first division title since 2009 with a convincing 40-17 win over the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. They also reached the 12-win plateau for the first time in team history in the process.
The Seahawks kept their winning ways alive, too, and clinched a playoff berth in the process.
Here’s a closer look at what transpired in the NFC West in Week 15.
Arizona Cardinals 40, Philadelphia Eagles 17
Arizona head coach Bruce Arians likes to take his shots down the field on offense. He wasted no time calling a long passing play Sunday night, with Carson Palmer airing out a beautiful pass to John Brown, who was behind the Eagles defense, and should have easily hauled in a 78-yard touchdown catch. He dropped it. But instead of that play igniting panic, the Cardinals just went the slow and steady way, churning out an 8-play, 78-yard drive capped by a 1-yard run from David Johnson to take an early lead.
Speaking of Johnson, the rookie running back was spectacular, gaining 187 yards and scoring three touchdowns on 29 carries. His 47-yard burst in the second quarter was one of the highlights of the year in the NFL.
Still the Cardinals only led 17-10 at halftime. They’d break it open in the third quarter. Johnson scored his third touchdown of the game with 9:48 left in the quarter. Carson Palmer then hit Brown on a 16-yard touchdown pass. Early in the fourth, Deone Bucannon picked off a Sam Bradford pass and returned it 39 yards for a score to ice it and earn t-shirts and hats for the Cardinals.
Arizona Money Quote: “I got a closet full of them (division title hats). I want one that says a whole lot more than this one.” — Bruce Arians
Stat of the Game: Johnson became the first Cardinals running back to have over 150 yards rushing and three touchdowns in a game since Willie Crenshaw did it in a 28-21 win over the New York Giants on Dec. 8, 1968.
What’s Next: The Cardinals return home for their last two games, hosting the Green Bay Packers Sunday in Glendale. A win would clinch a first-round playoff bye for Arizona.
NFC West Champs!!! We got the #shirtsandhats, but we ain't done yet! We're just getting started. #Birdgang
— Bruce Arians (@BruceArians) December 21, 2015
Seattle Seahawks 30, Cleveland Browns 13
Russell Wilson continued his stellar play, completing 21-of-30 for 249 yards and three touchdown passes as the Seattle Seahawks clinched their fourth straight playoff berth with an easy win over the Cleveland Browns.
Wilson hooked up twice with receiver Doug Baldwin on touchdowns. Baldwin is now tied with Jacksonville’s Allen Robinson and Odell Beckham, Jr. of the New York Giants for the league-lead with 13 touchdown receptions. He has 10 touchdowns in the last four weeks.
Cleveland scored first when Johnny Manziel hit Gary Barnidge on a 7-yard touchdown pass with 8:13 to go in the first quarter, capping an impressive 15-play, 80-yard drive. The Browns would manage only 150 yards the rest of the way.
Seattle Money Quote: “We’re clicking on all cylinders. Ultimately, the offensive line is doing a great job.” — Russell Wilson
Stat of the Game: The Seahawks won their fifth straight game and have averaged 34.2 points per game during the streak. In the five games, Wilson has thrown 19 touchdown passes without an interception.
WR @DougBaldwinJr in 2015: 13 TD rec (career-high) 65 rec (66 is career-high) 905 yds (career-high) #CLEvsSEA ? pic.twitter.com/muF7FLnFvk
— Seattle Seahawks (@Seahawks) December 21, 2015
Cincinnati Bengals 24, San Francisco 49ers 14
Jeremy Hill ran for two touchdowns in the second quarter as the Bengals built a 24-0 lead and hung on for a 10-point win over the 49ers at Levi’s Stadium.
A.J. McCarron, making his first start in place of the injured Andy Dalton, completed 15-of-21 passes for 192 yards and a 20-yard touchdown strike to Tyler Kroft that put Cincinnati up 21-0 in the second quarter.
San Francisco finally got on the board when Bruce Miller scored on a 1-yard run with 3:18 to go in the third quarter and added another touchdown late in the game on a Blaine Gabbert-to-Anquan Boldin pass.
San Francisco Money Quote: “‘I don’t blame them. We’re not fun to watch right now. Who wants to sit there and watch that?” — WR Torrey Smith, on being booed by the home fans as the the team left the field at halftime.
Stat of the Game: McCarron became the first Alabama quarterback to earn a win in the NFL since Jeff Rutledge of the New York Giants on Nov. 15, 1987.
"We have got to understand that we can not make those fundamental mistakes." Jim Tomsula: https://t.co/lQv6Dh386h pic.twitter.com/9yRSQMnTEy
— San Francisco 49ers (@49ers) December 21, 2015
St. Louis Rams 31, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 23
If Thursday night’s game was the last one ever for the Rams in St. Louis, at least the fans got a bit of a show.
Dressed in their all-yellow Color Rush uniforms, the Rams built a 28-6 lead through three quarters and held on for an 8-point win.
Case Keenum completed 14-of-17 passes for 234 yards and two touchdowns, earning a nearly-perfect QB rating of 158.0 for the game. It was the highest rating for a Rams quarterback since Kurt Warner’s 155.3 mark in Week 12 of the 2001 season.
Tavon Austin scored two touchdowns — one on a run and one on a reception — and Todd Gurley scored a touchdown and topped the 1,000-yard mark in his rookie season for the Rams, who may have played their final game in St. Louis. Owner Stan Kroenke wants to move the team to Los Angeles in time for the next season. St. Louis has been home to the Rams since 1995, when the franchise relocated from Anaheim, Calif.
St. Louis Money Quote: “He got a late start, as we all know. Everybody knows we’re going to run it, and he still got 1,000. That speaks volumes for him.” — St. Louis coach Jeff Fisher on Gurley.
Stat of the Game: At 6-8, the Rams are guaranteed their 12th straight non-winning season. In their 21 seasons in St. Louis, the Rams had winning records only four times, but made two Super Bowl appearances, beating the Tennessee Titans in the 1999 season and losing to the New England Patriots two years later.
Coach Fisher has some Thursday Night game balls to hand out! We got you @iamSB3! https://t.co/33fvbsUCn2
— St. Louis Rams (@STLouisRams) December 18, 2015
Week 15 Award Winners
Offensive Player of the Week: David Johnson, RB, Arizona Cardinals – Johnson was spectacular against Philadelphia. His 229 yards from scrimmage were the fifth-most in a single game in 2015. Since taking over the starting running back spot from the injured Chris Johnson, the rookie from Northern Iowa has rumbled for 378 yards and three touchdowns on 70 carries while catching 11 passes for 94 yards and another TD.
Honorable Mention: Seattle QB Russell Wilson, Seattle WR Doug Baldwin, Arizona QB Carson Palmer, St. Louis QB Case Keenum
Defensive Player of the Week: Deone Bucannon, S, Arizona Cardinals – Bucannon was all over the field against the Eagles, racking up 11 tackles and returning an interception 39 yards for a touchdown in Arizona’s division-clinching win.
Honorable Mention: Arizona LB Markus Golden, Seattle CB Marcus Burley, Arizona CB Patrick Peterson, San Francisco LB NaVorro Bowman, St. Louis CB Trumaine Johnson
Special Teams Player of the Week: Benny Cunningham, KR, St. Louis Rams – Cunningham had a 102-yard kickoff return in the fourth quarter, getting stopped at the Tampa Bay 3-yard line. The return set up a Greg Zuerlein field goal to put St. Louis up 31-13. Cunningham averaged 47 yards on four kick returns in the game.