Back in 2000, Maximus turned to the crowd and asked, “Are you not entertained?”
In 2015, Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians could have done the same thing, asking his team’s fans the very same question.
Though the Cardinals fell short of the Super Bowl, the answer would have to be “yes,” right?
NFL.com’s Elliot Harrison certainly thought the Cardinals were entertaining, as he wrote Arizona was part of three of the top 20 games of the 2015 season.
The Cardinals’ first appearance on the list was at No. 20, as their home loss to the St. Louis Rams made for some good viewing.
Explaining the choice, Elliot Harrison pointed out how the best player on the field that day was St. Louis rookie running back Todd Gurley.
Gurley sprinted around the edge. He gashed a top defense. And perhaps most of all, he moved with a sense of urgency while maintaining a graceful gait. On this day, an afternoon in which the lowly Rams upset an undefeated Arizona team, Gurley looked like the lovechild of Eric Dickerson and Eddie George.
But it was not just Gurley’s excellence — he ran for 146 yards — that had Harrison feeling good about the game. While very little of what made this afternoon exciting went the Cardinals’ way, he pointed to the Rams coming up with turnovers with the Cardinals hanging around until the end until what was deemed as the play of the game.
With the score Rams 24, Cardinals 22, Patrick Peterson broke up a Nick Foles pass, forcing the Rams to punt with 3:03 to go.
Arizona advanced to the Ram 43-yard line, where it seemed Palmer would get the Cardinals in range for a Chandler Catanzaro game-winner. Yet after two incompletions (including a drop by Jaron Brown), the Arizona offense was facing fourth-and-2.
Palmer got the matchup he wanted on the left side of the formation, a pick play to free rookie David Johnson, matched up on linebacker Akeem Ayers. Ayers got knocked off by Michael Floyd, and ended up trailing Johnson by several steps. Palmer had his man open for the first down and more, certainly in Catanzaro’s range.
Incomplete. Palmer overshot it. Rams football.
It was Arizona’s first loss of the season, a stunner to a team most expected the Cardinals to have little trouble with. If nothing else, the game proved how any team is beatable on any given day, and that Sunday, it was the home favorite that went down in a good battle.
The Cardinals’ other two appearances on the list went much better for them than their first.
At No. 12, Harrison has their big win in Seattle over the Seahawks, noting it was a game that featured Bruce Arians’ aggressive, unconventional and fearless coaching style.
Arians’ football machismo was on full display in Week 12 versus the Seahawks. Arizona pushed the pedal to the metal, and only downshifted when the Seattle defense least expected it (see below). More importantly, Arians’ club delivered a resounding salvo across the proverbial NFC West bow that this division didn’t belong to Russell, Marshawn, Kam, and the Legion of Boom anymore. To quote the late, great Glenn Frey, there’s a new kid in town.
The Sunday Night Football affair was also a coming out party for Michael Floyd, who caught seven passes for 113 yards and two touchdowns.
Outside of the push-it approach from Arians, it should be noted that both scores were the result of fantastic efforts from the ever-tough Floyd. On the first touchdown, he toe tapped in reverse to ensure both his feet were inbounds. On the second, Floyd stretched over the pylon while simultaneously heading out of bounds to prevent Arizona’s short yardage offense from having to take the field.
Part of what made this game so great, though, was that while Arizona jumped out to an early lead, the Seahawks fought back and even took a 29-25 lead with 13 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
At that point, the home team had all the momentum and the visiting Cardinals were reeling — until they weren’t. Harrison mentions how Arians’ playcalling helped Arizona produce a 10-play, 83-yard touchdown drive to retake the lead. Then, after the defense forced a punt, Arizona’s offense got back on the field and produced what the writer believes is the play of the game.
The Cardinals were up 32-29 and needed four yards from the Seattle 48. Given his style, no one would have been surprised if Arians had his offense take to the air and try to pick up the yards or even points. Instead, Palmer handed the ball off.
The play call was a delayed handoff to Andre Ellington. Not Chris Johnson, the team’s leading rusher, nor David Johnson, the dynamic rooke. The Cardinals banked on right defensive end Frank Clark rushing straight up the field. This was a clear passing down, after all. Palmer had already dropped back 50 times. So Arians knew the pass rush would be over aggressive. Ellington scurried past the traffic behind the line, before suckering Kam Chancellor into a bad angle while he bounced outside. Then Ellington pulled a tightrope act staying inbounds … 48 yards later he had a touchdown, and the Seahawks comeback was kaput.
Ellington’s run spawned the Drew Stanton dance, while the victory led to the Palmer hip thrust. The win pushed Arizona’s record to 7-2 and put them in the driver’s seat to win the NFC West for the first time since 2009. And on national TV, it served notice that the Seahawks’ reign as the top team in the division was — if not coming to an end — going to be hotly contested.
Most importantly, our 12th top game of 2015 featured the explosive Cardinals offense showcasing its talents, only to see a multi-score lead evaporate in a second half Seattle blitzkrieg. Then, with the outcome still in doubt, a brilliant play call sealed the deal. Oh, and it was in front of a national audience with no other football to turn their attention to … here’s to Arizona-Seattle being THE rivalry that captures every fan’s attention for the next several years.
While the win over Seattle was ranked No. 1 on our very own list, it was a different Cardinals triumph that topped Harrison’s.
And to be fair, it’s difficult to argue that Arizona’s Divisional Round win over the Green Bay Packers was the best game of the season.
The Hail Mary. The rarest of successful football plays … and to think Aaron Rodgers hit two of them last year. The second of which only served to push the Packers at Cardinals playoff game from fun matchup to ridiculous game in seconds. Larry Fitzgerald’s clutch overtime performance moved this postseason thriller to a firm No.1 on our Top 20 Games of 2015 countdown.
Harrison noted a nice touchdown catch by Floyd, a long Eddie Lacy run, big penalties costing each team monster plays, Arizona taking the lead on a deflected pass along with the game seemingly ending a few times when it actually was not even close to being finished.
Not. Even. Close.
This game had great plays, terrible plays and fluky plays, and it all resulted in a phenomenal football game that ultimately propelled the Cardinals to the NFC Championship game.
Does Harrison really need a reason to rank it first? Not really, but he provides one anyway.
This is the sixth season we’ve done the Top 20 Games series. Despite the fact that NFL competition is closer than ever, and that there exists so few “haves” and “have nots” anymore, selecting the premier game has been rather easy.
Much like the “Miracle in the New Meadowlands” in 2010 or Super Bowl XLIX, Packers at Cardinalsstuck out as a game that fans will remember for years to come. And although neither of these franchises would find their way to Super Bowl 50, ask even casual fans the most exciting game they watched last season and this overtime thriller will usually come out of their mouth within seconds. My colleagues at NFL Network and NFL.com were no different in that regard.
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