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This was a scary game because the Cards needed one game to clinch the NFC West title, and none of the three remaining games (Philly, GB and Seattle) were cakewalks. Easiest of the three appeared to be in Philly, so in a very real sense, this was a must game.
It was a Sunday PM national game in Philly in the winter. Eagles were coming off a 23 - 20 win over the Bills and were tied with Washington atop the NFC East standings. Dallas had lost to the Jets and the Giants lost a squeaker to the Panteras. The Eagles figured to feel "they were still in it" and, as such, it was a must game for them as well. Cards won ugly over Minnesota two Thursday nights ago and were well rested. Cards are now 11 & 2 and hadn't won 12 games or 8-straight since the Trippi and Angsmann era of the late 1940's. Philly was operating behind a very smart innovative head coach and capable of ringing up serious points given the right set of circumstances.
Late Breaking (12/21/15 - 3:00 pm, ESPN) - Tyrann Mathieu - who went down from non-contact just minutes before the end of the Eagle game - is reported out for the season with a torn ACL. When asked what kind of adjustments the team will make with Mathieu sidelined, HC Bruce Arians responded: "Just like we always have. Jerraud (Powers) will move into nickel; we’ll see what roster moves we make, if we make any. Tony (Jefferson) played well, D.J. (Swearinger) played well. Hopefully we’ll get Rashad (Johnson) back and just keep on moving.”
Cards Paste 40-Burger on Eagles to Win Division.
The Bottom Line:
I admit it - I'm a greedy pig. With the Cards winning the NFC West, thumping Philly convincingly and securing at least one home-field playoff game, I should have been ecstatic. But I'm not happy with John Brown's three drops, the 10-guys on the field fiasco, allowing Bradford to dig his way out of a 3rd and forever situation on his own three, another missed XP by Catanzaro and Jefferson allowing their leading receiver (J Matthews) to be wide open early in the 4Q. These were all glaring, highly visible gaffes; any one of which could cost us a game against a more accomplished opponent. Fortunately, the Eagles were unable to capitalize on our errors, made a bunch of them on their own and were lucky we didn't hit the 50 or 60-point threshhold of the game.
That said - we won the game we needed to win. We did it convincingly. We're Division Champs. The next two games (vs. GB and Seattle) - though important for home field advantage, securing a Bye etc. - is like playing with house money
Philly won the toss and deferred. The Cardinal opening drive was a thing of beauty (Collingwsorth described it as "too easy."
Cards opened up a 7 -3 first quarter lead burt Philly came back to tie us 10 - 10 in the second quarter. A David Johnson scamper - sure to become part of the week's (if not the year's) highlights reel andremembered as much for Johnson's toughness as for his speed, elusiveness or ability to follow blockers - nopened up a 17 - 10 halftime lead and the Cardinals never looked back. Score was 30 - 10 by the end of the 3rd quarter and 40 - 10 to end the game. A late-game knee or ankle injury to Tyrann Mathieu was the only significant negative aspect of the Cardinals' date in Philly.
Cards received. K Williams returned KO to the Card 22. Brown was wide open deep down the middle but dropped a perfectly thrown Palmer pass. Fells caught a short pass and, carrying Philly defenders on his back turned it into a 36-yard short completion that set up a one-yard TD run by D Johnson. . Cards 7 - Eagles 0.
Philly returned the KO to its own 26. Bradford shredded the Cardinal short pass defense with completions to J Matthews. A 30-yard catch & run by J Matthews moved the ball into Cardinal territory, but the 12-yard scoring drive was stopped at theCardinal 18 with a 36-yard Sturgis FG. Cards 7 - Eagles 3..
K Williams returned the KO to the Card 20. Palmer moved the Cards into Eagle territory and down to the 6-yard line as the quarter ended. LOngest gain was an 18-yarder to Fitz. Also part of the drive were completions of 12, 12 and 10 yards respectively to D Johnson, K Williams and Floyd.
1st Quarter Score: Cards 7 - Eagles 3.
Continuation of a 13 play drive. After Cox sacked Palmer for minus-4 yards, the Cards settled for a 28-yard Catanbzaro FG. Cards 10 - Eagles 3.
Huff returned the KO to the Philly 25. Cards held Philly to 3 & out.Punt fair caught at the Card 18. A holding call on a successful 8-yard Palmer scramble and another incompletion to J Brown forced the Cards to hand Philly a 3 & out. Punt downed at the Eagle 47. Four plays later, Bradford hit Ertz for A 22-yard TD. (THis may have been the one where the Cards only had ten men on the field and their signal for a timeout was ignored by the officials). Cards 10 - Eagles 10.
TB on the KO. Another incompletion deep to J Brown helped derail a 7 play Cardinal drive at their own 47. Punt fair caught at the Card 15. Eagles went 3 & out. Peterson fielded the punt, ran right into his own man (Niklas) and fumbled. Fortunately he recovered the fumble. Cards started from their own 33. On the third play from scrimmage, D Johnson executed what may have been the best TD run of the 2015 season - he circled right end, cut back (and under) a bevy of Eagle tacklers, broke a few more tackles and then high-tailed it into the end zone for a 47-yard TD. A case could be made that this was the turning point ("the back-breaker") of the game. Cards 17 - Eagles 10.
4:00 left till halftime. Huff returned the KO to the Eagle 44. A 21-yard completion to Celek haloed trigger a 10-yrd drive that ended at the Cardinal 8, when Bucannon stoned R Mathews for no gain on a 4th & 1. With 0:45 left. Palmer made it almost to midfield in 7 plays before time ran out. D Johnson was injured on the 3rd play of the possession but returned to the contest in the 2H.
Wish the lead was greater, but at least we were ahead in a must-win contest.
First Half Score: Cards 17 - Eagles 10.
Philly received. TB on the KO. Mission - Stop Philly from tieing the game on its first drive in the 2H. After Bradford hit Cooper for +15, Philly stalled and punted from their own 41. Punt was fair caught by PP21 at the Cardinal 13. A completion (finally!) to J Brown for +19 yards and a 19-yard run by D Johnson moved the Cards to the Philly 30. Palmer then hit Floyd down the right sideline for an incredible one-handed catch - barely inbounds - to put the ball on the Eagle one and set up a one-yard TD run by D Johnson. (We were beginning to breathe a bit easier, but Catanzaro whiffed the XP). Cards 23 - Eagles 10.
KO (net penalty) gave Philly the ball on their own 7. Bradford got out of trouble with a 22-yard 3rd down completion to Huff. He 9 plays to move o the Cardinal 38, but got sacked by Golden (who seemed to imitate the tomahawk-chop style of Dwight Freene and forced a fumble which was recovered by Rucker. But Palmer injured a finger on the second play of the Cardinal possession and Philly held AZ to 3 & out. (Palmer had his finger taped and he returned for the next series). Punt was returned to the Philly 16. They moved out to their own 44, but on the 4th play of their possession, R Mathews (on the end of what seemed to be a shovel pass) fumbled. Swearinger (a late-season pickup in for R Johnson) recovered at midfield.
After a pass interference infraction (created by Fitz) put the ball on the Philly 16, J Brown caught a ball on the left sideline a half-dozen yards short of the goal line, sidestepped the only tackler and practically walked into the end zone. Cards 30 - Eagles10..
TB on the KO. Philly moved to its 29 to end the quarter.
Third Quarter Score: Cards 30 - Eagles 10..
- On the first play of the 4Q, Bradford's pass for R Mathews was picked off by Bucannon and returned for a 39-yard Pick-6. Cards 37 - Eagles 10..
That should have done it, but on the first play - after Huff returned the KO to the Philly 27 - Bradford hit a wide-open J Mathews deep for a 78-yard TD. (What was that all about)?.It's a 20 -point football game with the entire 4Q left to play. Cards 37 - Eagles 17.
KO returned to the AZ 22. Four doses of D Johnson, a 3-yard completion to J Brown and a sack for minus-7 forced Arizona to punt from its own 33. Punt was returned to the Eagle 35. They managed to get to the Cardinal 30 where, Bradford was unable to convert a 4th & 4. Cards took over on their own 31 with 8:17 left to play (plenty of time for knuckle biting). A short pass to Fells for +11-yards and bunch of runs/short passes to D Johnson set up a 38-yard Catanzaro FG to make it 40 - 17 football game. Cards 40 - Eagles 17.
2:55 left. On the second play of the Eagle possession, T Mathieu intercepted a deep pass down the left sideline and left the field limping (Could have been an ankle; could have been a knee - waiting X-Ray/MRI results). Two running plays by Taylor. 2 knees. Game over.
Final Score: Cards 40 - Eagles 20.
Passing: Palmer was 20 for 32 (274 yards, 1 TD and 0 picks). Bradford was 28 of 41 (361 yards, 2 TD's and 2 pics).
Takeaways: Cards plus- 5. Cards recovered 3 fumbles (Niklas, Rucker, Swearinger); and lost 0.
Rushing: Cards gained 230 net yards (5.9 ypc). Eagle runners were held to 74 (3.7 ypc). D Johnson gained 187-yards on 29 carries and scored 3 TD's.. R Mathews gained 58 yards on 11 carries.
Receiving: Floyd caught 5 for 70. DJ caught 4 for 42, Fells, John Brown and Fitz each had 3 catches. Floyd gained 102 yards and had one TD. John Brown had one TD.
Cardinal Run/Pass Ratio: . (Runs: 39/Pass: 33). Philly Run/Pass Ratio: 20/41.
Tackles: Bucannon (11), Jefferson (6), Minter (6), Mathieu (5)
Sacks - Cards were credited with two sacks (Stinson, Golden).
Situational Efficiency: Cards converted 8 of 14 third downs (57%).Eagles were 6 of 122 (50%). Cards were 3 of 4 in the Red Zone (75%). Eagles were 0 of 2 (0%).
Penalties: Cards were penalized 1 time for 10 yards (Eagles were penalized 5 times for 38 yds).
Time of Possession: Cards 37:28. Eagles 22:321
We won when we had to.
We won in the Northeast in the winter on the road.
We should play at least one playoff game at home and have a good shot at a Bye.
We put up 40 points
Were only flagged for one penalty on the road.
D Johnson's 187 rushing yards. (Credit the OL too).
We didn't turn over the ball.
Passing offense looked spot-on. .
The Darker Side
12 & 2 and NFC Champs. We beat Philly in the winter, at their house on the road. But the Cards will have to find a way to make up for the loss of their best pure defensive player and the "Swiss Army Knife" of the Cardinal defense, Tyrann Mathieu. You can't replace so versatile a defender as the Badger, but there's still a legitimate shot at a Super Bowl ring in front of us and we still gotta put the best 11 men on the field. Options available are (1) next-man up among our current safeties (incl. R Johnson, Jefferson, Swearinger), (2) shifting Justin Bethel back from corner and maybe siging another corner now that Powers is back, (3) fitting Powers into the Mathieu role and/or changing our defensive scheme to get the most out of a Badgerless secondary.
Not to be overlooked in the midst of the gut-wrenching feelings and drama of Tyrann's injury should be the fact that this team has been playing at a very high level on a very consistent basis. Pat yourself on the back. OK that's enough; now go out there and figure out a way kick some more ass. .