For Cardinals, it all comes to an end Sunday in Los Angeles
Dec 31, 2016, 11:30 AM
(AP Photo/John Froschauer)
TEMPE, Ariz. — Last season, Week 17 was not the end for the Arizona Cardinals.
That week’s game, which resulted in a 34-6 home loss to the Seattle Seahawks, was merely a formality before what was expected to be a deep postseason run. The final regular season game was a springboard for what was next to come.
This season, when the clock strikes 0:00 on the Cardinals’ game in Los Angeles against the Rams, that will be it.
There will be no playoffs, no other game for this team. The season will come to an end, and the offseason will commence.
With that in mind, can anything be gained from this weekend?
According to the players, finishing the season with consecutive division wins over the Seattle Seahawks and Rams would be valuable, with QB Carson Palmer saying a win this weekend would be huge.
“It’s hard to carry over much from the year before, but it definitely sends you off into the offseason the right way,” he said. “Getting this week handled, handling the business of this week professionally, handling everything in the right way, when it’s so difficult not to because there are so many distractions that come with what happens on Monday morning and all those things that come up.
“But no doubt, going in and finishing 2-0 the last two games on the road against good opponents, it might carry over a little bit.”
On some levels, it makes sense that something could carry over. Whether it’s confidence in your ability to beat another team — in this case, one that knocked off the Cardinals earlier in the season — or even just proving to yourself that quality football is still in you, a victory in what may seem like a meaningless game does not necessarily have to be so.
“No doubt about it,” cornerback Patrick Peterson said when asked if finishing one season strong can carry over into the next one. “I was on one of these teams before when I believe we played Seattle my rookie year, the last game of the season, we played those guys pretty tough, won that ballgame, and came back into the season, I believe we won four games straight.
“The rest is history — we went down bad road after that, but I believe winning these games, the last game of the season when you’re not going to the playoffs, definitely gives you a lot to look for in the next season.”
Peterson was referencing 2011, when the Cardinals defeated the Seahawks 23-20 in OT to end the season with five wins in their last six games, then started the 2012 campaign with four straight wins. That team ultimately finished 5-11, but the cornerback’s point was that he believes the fast start had something to do with the previous year’s strong finish.
At the same time, with more than 20 player set to be free agents this offseason, when the 2017 Cardinals get together for the first time next season, they will be a different group than the one that takes the field Sunday in Los Angeles.
So, can a team really gain momentum when it is set to undergo a makeover?
“It will set a good taste for the guys to be working out in the offseason that will be back, but every team is new,” head coach Bruce Arians said. “Every year’s a new year, and 13-3 didn’t help us this year. It’s a new ballgame; you won’t have the same faces. You’ll add some and lose some. They have to become their own identity next year.”
Unlike last season, when the “next year” arrived somewhat suddenly, this year’s team has had some time to mentally prepare itself for the finality that this week represents.
That said, receiver Larry Fitzgerald said it really won’t hit him until Monday, after they’ve gone through their exit physicals.
“And you’ve got nothing going on at that point,” he said.
Just four months ago, no one predicted the end would come so soon. Not when training camp began or even when the games started, because back then most felt the Cardinals were destined for the postseason.
Over the course of 17 weeks, however, inconsistent play, special teams miscues and injuries conspired to doom them, and that’s why their season will wrap up Sunday afternoon, regardless of who wins.
“It went by really fast — it went by too fast, actually,” linebacker Chandler Jones said. “But it is what it is, so we’ve got to make the best of it.”
The best the Cardinals could do now is finish their season 7-8-1, and though it may seem like the trek to this point has been long and arduous, to some — like Jones and his head coach — that is not at all the case.
“This season has flown by, and that’s a testament to our guys because they are so fun to work with because they do show up to work and they’re so attentive in meetings and they practice hard,” Arians said. “That makes the game fun.
“The outcome wasn’t what we wanted in four or five ballgames on Sunday; that put us to where we’re not playing next week.”
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– The Cardinals enter their finale as one of three teams in the NFL who rank in the top-10 in both total offense and total defense, joining the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers.
– Arizona last lost an NFC West road game in 2014, and head into this matchup winners of five straight such contests.
– The Cardinals have not won a game against the Los Angeles Rams since 1993, though to be fair, it was only this season when the team relocated from St. Louis to Hollywood.
– Larry Fitzgerald needs 20 receiving yards to reach 1,000 for the season. If he does so, it will be his eighth career 1,000-yard season. With eight receptions, Fitzgerald would establish a new personal and franchise season record, with 110. Fitzgerald also enters the game four catches behind Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown for the NFL lead, and with Brown expected to sit the finale out, the lead could be Larry’s for the taking.
– David Johnson has amassed 100 yards from scrimmage in every game this season. If he does so again Sunday, he would become the first player in NFL history to do that in all 16 games in a season, and tie Lydell Mitchell (1975-76) for the second longest streak in NFL history behind Marcus Allen, who had 17 straight games of at least 100 yards from scrimmage between 1985 and 1986.
– Johnson is 59 receiving yards away from becoming the first player in NFL history to post 1,000 or more rushing yards, 900 or more receiving yards and 20 total touchdowns in a single season. At the same time, he is 159 receiving yards away from being just the third player in NFL history to tally at least 1,000 rushing yards and 1,000 receiving yards in the same season.
– More Johnson: Johnson needs one more touchdown to have 34 in 32 career games, and only Edgerrin James, who had 35 between 1999 and 2000, would have more TDs in their first two NFL seasons. Also, with 26 scrimmage yards and a touchdown of any kind, Johnson would become the seventh player in NFL history with 2,100 scrimmage yards and 21 touchdowns in a single season.
– Carson Palmer is 22 passing yards away from having 4,000 on the season, which would give him three such campaigns in four years with the Cardinals. It would also be the fifth 4,000-yard season in team history. If Palmer throws for 300 yards Sunday, he would establish a new franchise record with 23 total 300-yard performances.
– Chandler Jones needs just half a sack to reach 10 on the season. If he can reach double digits, he and Markus Golden would give the Cardinals a pair of double digit sack players in the same season for the first time since 1984.