With the NFC West title already in hand, the Arizona Cardinals were playing Sunday for a first-round playoff bye as they hosted the Green Bay Packers in Glendale.
They got it, thanks to a dominating performance that included nine sacks of Packers quarterbacks — the most they’ve had in a game since 1986.
Their (meaningless) division lead is now up to four games after the Seahawks lost to the Rams in Seattle.
Meanwhile, San Francisco continued playing out the string.
Here’s a closer look at what went down in the NFC West in Week 16.
Arizona Cardinals 38, Green Bay Packers 8
Think about it … if quarterback sacks counted as points, the Cardinals still would have beaten the Packers, 9-8.
For at least one week, fears about how the Cardinals’ defense would perform without Tyrann Mathieu were quelled as Arizona tortured Aaron Rodgers all day long. The Cards forced four fumbles, recovering three, and scored two defensive touchdowns as the Packers could only muster 178 yards of offense.
Carson Palmer completed 18-of-25 passes for 265 yards and two touchdowns for the Cardinals, who notched their ninth straight win — good enough for the second-longest win streak in team history.
Arizona led 10-0 late in the second quarter when Mike Daniels picked off a Palmer screen pass and gave the Packers great field position at the Cardinals’ 15-yard line. But Rodgers couldn’t punch it in. He was picked off in the end zone by Justin Bethel to thwart the threat. Armed with :57 on the clock and three timeouts, the Cardinals again showed their aggressive offensive nature. Palmer hit Michael Floyd on a 47-yard pass on first down and six plays later, Palmer connected with John Brown on a 6-yard touchdown pass to make it 17-0 at the half.
The Cardinals then got two defensive touchdowns in the third quarter, both courtesy of strip sacks. Kareem Martin blew past backup right tackle Josh Walker, stripped Rodgers and Cory Redding picked it up and rumbled 36 yards into the end zone. About six-and-a-half minutes later, the defense struck again. Dwight Freeney got to Rodgers, forcing a fumble that was plucked out of the air by Jerraud Powers, who walked in from 7 yards for another score that capped a dominating day for Arizona.
Arizona Money Quote: “To get a bye, whichever seed it is, is outstanding. That’s the goal we set back in April in our first team meeting. It was to learn from the 9-1 situation we had last year and not play well enough to win, to learn how to play well enough to win, and we really still haven’t done anything other than get a bye. You don’t get rings for byes; you only get t-shirts and hats.” — Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians
Stat of the Game: The Packers had only allowed 24 points off of turnovers in their first 14 games of 2015. The Cardinals turned four Green Bay miscues into 28 points Sunday.
What’s Next: The Cardinals host the Seattle Seahawks Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium. With a win and a Carolina loss to Tampa Bay, Arizona would be the top seed in the NFC heading into the postseason.
— Arizona Cardinals (@AZCardinals) December 28, 2015
St. Louis Rams 23, Seattle Seahawks 17
You get the feeling that St. Louis head coach Jeff Fisher would like to play only NFC West games?
The Rams improved to 4-1 against division foes with a second win over the Seahawks, this one in Seattle.
Akeem Ayers returned a Will Tukuafu fumble 45 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter, giving St. Louis a 10-0 lead. In the second quarter, Rams quarterback Case Keenum hooked up with Kenny Britt, who got behind cornerback Richard Sherman, on a beautiful 28-yard scoring strike to make it 16-0.
Seattle would chip away at the Rams’ lead. Steven Hauschka booted a 26-yard field goal right before halftime to put the Seahawks on the board. Midway through the third quarter, Russell Wilson hit Doug Baldwin on a 25-yard touchdown pass to make it 16-10. But St. Louis answered. Keenum led an 11-play, 62-yard drive that culminated in a Todd Gurley 2-yard touchdown run that essentially iced the game.
The win was the Rams’ first in Seattle since the 2005 playoffs.
St. Louis Money Quote: “It’s nice to win three straight against good teams. We have a chance to go 5-1 in the division and finish on a winning note. That’s what our focus is going to be.” — Rams head coach Jeff Fisher
Seattle Money Quote: “This was a day you want to forget. We couldn’t get out of our own way from the start on and really made it so difficult for our guys to win.” — Seattle head coach Pete Carroll
Stat of the Game: Sunday marked the first time since Russell Wilson took over as Seattle’s starting quarterback in 2012 that the Seahawks lost a game without ever having the lead.
What’s Next: Seattle hits the road to take on the Cardinals in Arizona, while the Rams will close out the season (and possibly their stay in St. Louis) with a road trip to Santa Clara to play the 49ers.
— NFL (@NFL) December 27, 2015
Detroit Lions 32, San Francisco 49ers 17
Matthew Stafford threw two touchdown passes and Matt Prater kicked four field goals as the Lions beat the 49ers at Ford Field.
Two first-half touchdown passes from Blaine Gabbert gave San Francisco a lead. The second, a 16-yard strike to Torrey Smith, put the 49ers up 14-10 with 11:26 to go in the second quarter. But Detroit would dominate from that point on, outscoring San Francisco 22-7 the rest of the way. The 49ers managed only 57 yards of offense in the second half.
The Niners have now lost three straight and five of their last six. Their 11 losses are the most since the 2007 team went 5-11 under head coach Mike Nolan.
San Francisco Money Quote: “What did we have, seven? There’s no excuse for that. None. We’ve just got to go back and look at that but I can’t, for the life of me, give any excuse for that. It’s inexcusable.” — San Francisco head coach Jim Tomsula on the seven neutral-zone infraction penalties called on the 49ers defense during the game.
Stat of the Game: Anquan Boldin became the 13th player in NFL history to reach the 1,000-catch mark for a career.
What’s Next: The 49ers host the Rams at Levi’s Stadium next Sunday.
— San Francisco 49ers (@49ers) December 27, 2015
Week 16 Award Winners
Offensive Player of the Week: Carson Palmer, QB, Arizona Cardinals – Yes, Palmer threw a dreadful interception (his first in 168 attempts) near the end of the first half. But he rebounded nicely, leading an 80-yard touchdown drive in the two-minute drill to give Arizona a 17-0 halftime lead over Green Bay.
Honorable Mention: St. Louis RB Todd Gurley, Arizona RB David Johnson, Arizona WR Michael Floyd
Defensive Player of the Week: Dwight Freeney, OLB, Arizona Cardinals – Freeney led the Cardinals’ relentless pass rush Sunday with three sacks, including one that forced a fumble that was returned for an Arizona touchdown. According to details of his contract, Freeney racked up $300,000 in bonuses for his Sunday performance.
Honorable Mention: St. Louis LB Akeem Ayers, St. Louis DE William Hayes, Seattle LB Bobby Wagner, Arizona CB Justin Bethel, Arizona DE Calais Campbell, Arizona CB Jerraud Powers
Special Teams Player of the Week: Johnny Hekker, P, St. Louis Rams – He had an OK game statistically. But he gets the nod during an uneventful week for drawing an unnecessary roughness flag for hitting Seattle’s Cliff Avril.
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