Soon, the Cardinals will know if they will play in Super Bowl 50. Not that they are looking at this game – Sunday night, NFC Championship, in Carolina – along those lines.
“You can’t get the Lombardi without winning the Halas,” Larry Fitzgerald said.
The veteran receiver knows how it works. He’s reminded of it all the time when he walks through the lobby of the team’s Tempe complex and sees the Halas Trophy from the 2008 season displayed. That trophy signifies the key to what was a marvelous two weeks back then, an ending that wasn’t derailed until the last minute. (We won’t go into that now.)
But those two weeks are a crucial point. The Super Bowl seems so far away, both in time and as a journey. Traveling to Carolina comes first – that’s Saturday morning when the Cards leave – and then a game.
I believe the Cardinals are mentally in the right place for this game. A lot can happen in the game itself. I expect a close game. And the Cardinals can try and close in on an NFC title. After that, there will be plenty of time to talk about what’s next.
— It’s hard to get past the feeling that a turnover or two will decide this. These two teams are the ones who have forced the most turnovers in the league (39 for the Panthers, 33 for the Cardinals).
— The most glaring issue on offense in the Cards’ last two games was how the offensive line/protection/blocking got off to slow starts. Something to watch for in the first quarter Sunday night. The Panthers have a helluva front seven. The Cards have to hold up.
— During the Biggest Red Rage Thursday night, cornerback Patrick Peterson said he’s actually down to 199 pounds, a far cry from the listed 219 he played at last season, and down a few from the beginning of the season. He said he could still hang with tight end Greg Olsen if needed, though.
— I’m interested to see if they indeed would put Peterson on Olsen at any point.
— Will weather be a factor? I don’t think it will, as long as the forecast doesn’t change. It might be cold – it’ll dip to near freezing during the game – but Fitzgerald was telling me a couple of weeks ago before the Seattle-Minnesota freezefest that it’s actually not bad for players. Heaters on the sidelines, in the mat the players stand on, big coats. It may be chilly when a drive starts, but that changes quickly as the plays mount.
— For the record, three coldest games (by kickoff temperature) the Cardinals have played this season: 37 degrees at Philadelphia, 45 degrees at Pittsburgh, 49 degrees at Seattle. The Panthers were 41 degrees at NY Giants, 43 degrees at home against Seattle in the playoffs, and 50 degrees home against Washington.
It is supposed to be about 37 degrees and clear at kickoff for the NFC Championship.
— Arians, asked how valid it was that players will listen to players more than they listen to coaches.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt about it,” Arians said with a smile. “If I want to get a message to Carson, I tell Drew (Stanton), you know.”
— Not only is Fitzgerald the only player (minimum three postseason games) to average 100 yards and a touchdown in his postseason career, he could go catchless Sunday and he would still average 100/1. Right now, Fitzgerald has 912 yards and 10 touchdowns in only eight postseason games.
— Fitzgerald, by the way, was fined $23,152 for his illegal crackback block against the Packers last week.
— Ring of Honor member and former safety Adrian Wilson, now working in the Cardinals’ personnel department as a scout (and famously celebrating with Fitzgerald after his touchdown last week) is the Cardinals’ honorary captain for the game Sunday.
— If you want to see the Cardinals off Saturday, there is a rally at the airport starting at 10 a.m. Click here for the details.
— Defensive tackle Calais Campbell was a rookie in 2008, when the Cardinals went to Carolina to play in the Divisional round and were viewed, as Fitzgerald put it, as “roadkill.” That was the day the defense ruined Jake Delhomme for good, and because of a turn of events, earned a chance to host the NFC Championship game against the Eagles.
Campbell was a backup fill-in then. Now, he’s a Pro Bowl star trying to lead the defense. Yet, as he considered things, he’s not sure things on a fundamental level, are much different.
“Back then you just didn’t want to mess up,” Campbell said. “You just wanted to do your job. It’s still kind of the same case. The biggest thing is just doing your job. Making it just another game of football. It is just one game. You can’t go out there and try to do too much more than your job.
“As a captain and a leader of the team, I want to make sure that I work with the younger guys. Make sure they’re focused and they’re disciplined, and they can realize that it just takes doing your job. You don’t have to do anything extra. Just do what you’ve been doing all year. Do what got us here.”
The Cardinals are 14-3 after all. Maybe Campbell once again will be able to celebrate in a drizzle on the Panthers’ home field. Maybe he and his teammates will bring home that Halas Trophy.
See you in Carolina.
Tags: Adrian Wilson, Calais Campbell, Larry Fitzgerald, NFC Championship, Panthers, Patrick Peterson, playoffs
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Quarterback Carson Palmer was the top vote-getter for the Cardinals now that the public part of Pro Bowl voting has ended. Palmer got the fourth most votes of any player — 514,967, to be specific — and was also fourth overall in the NFL, since QBs all finished ahead of him (Brady, Newton, Dalton).
Free safety Tyrann Mathieu dropped a spot to third at his position, but Frostee Rucker made a late surge to get into the top 10. In all, 11 Cardinals were ranked in the top 10 in votes at their respective positions. Players and coaches vote later this week league-wide to come up with the final Pro Bowl tallies/roster, and they get announced Dec. 22.
The full Cardinals’ list:
— QB Carson Palmer fourth
— RB Chris Johnson eighth
— WR Larry Fitzgerald fourth (with an impressive 410,095 votes)
— G Mike Iupati fifth
— DT Calais Campbell fifth, Frostee Rucker seventh
— CB Patrick Peterson fifth
— SS Rashad Johnson seventh, Deone Bucannon 10th
— FS Tyrann Mathieu third
— Special teams Justin Bethel fourth
Tags: Calais Campbell, Carson Palmer, Chris Johnson, Deone Bucannon, Frostee Rucker, Justin Bethel, Larry Fitzgerald, Mike Iupati, Patrick Peterson, Pro Bowl, Rashad Johnson, Tyrann Mathieu
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Sure, Michael Floyd had his fourth 100-yard outing in his last five games and Smokey Brown broke off a 65-yard touchdown catch and Larry Fitzgerald is (probably) headed to the Hall of Fame. But look out for Mike Iupati as a receiving option.
The mammoth guard caught a batted Carson Palmer pass on what turned out to be the Cardinals’ game-winning field-goal drive and plowed forward 10 yards for a first down.
“He got some yards,” Palmer said. “We might have to put a screen in for him or maybe a quick flat route down on the goal line. We have one in for (backup center/jumbo tight end) A.Q. (Shipley). But I think Mike is proven now. We have it on film. He can go in and I’ll fight for him. I’ll lobby for him to get a pass.”
Palmer called it a weird night, and it doesn’t get much weirder than Iupati not only making a catch, but averaging 10 yards per reception. It might’ve been weird because of the short week, although the players said no. What it was was a team in the Vikings who were embarrassed at home by Seattle and desperately needed to rebound.
It’s not like the Cardinals were bad. They looked like a team dead set on stopping Adrian Peterson which, except for the first drive, they pretty much did. Teddy Bridgewater completed passes, but the defense forced fumbles, and whether you say it was lucky they did – the Vikings were in at least field-goal range on all three of the fumbles – or you say they made the plays they needed to make for a stop, it still equates to a good enough defensive effort.
“We’d like to keep them out of the red zone if we can,” defensive tackle Calais Campbell said. “But they played great.”
Hey, a win is a win. The Vikings are going to be in the playoffs, in all likelihood.
— The Cardinals clinched a playoff spot. Their magic number to clinch the NFC West is one. Interestingly, the Seahawks play twice before the Cardinals play another game – this Sunday against the Ravens, and then the Seahawks will play their game Dec. 20 against the Browns before the Cardinals kick off their game in Philadelphia on “Sunday Night Football” – so the Cards have two opportunities they could win the west before playing again.
— No, I don’t think the Seahawks are going to lose to the Ravens or the Browns.
— Adrian Peterson had just 13 yards on 11 carries in the second half.
— Palmer’s footwork within the pocket on the touchdown pass to Brown needs to be on an instructional video for young quarterbacks.
— Here’s why it was good that Dwight Freeney made that great strip-sack at the end of the game: It was inevitable that Blair Walsh would boot the game-tying field goal. It’s statistically odd, but Cardinals’ opponents have yet to miss a field goal this season – now 22-for-22.
— Wide receiver blocks were big. Fitzgerald led the way for Floyd’s long TD, and J.J. Nelson had a Brittan-Golden-in-Seattle-on-the-sideline block to free Brown streaking to the end zone.
Fitz pancaked Vikings safety Anthony Harris, but as usual, he didn’t want to dwell on his blocking. He’s a receiver.
“It’s part of the job, but catching touchdowns is much more glorious,” Fitzgerald said. “You’re not as sore, you don’t have to get in the cold tub as much, but it’s a role I’m privileged to have because I know it’s a dirty job but I’m capable of doing it.”
— There is nothing better than a mini-bye if you can get the win in a Thursday game. The Cardinals should be getting a good chunk of their banged-up guys back for Philly. Even running back David Johnson could use a couple of days. He said he was fine, but admitted he took a shot to his right thigh early in the game, which is why he limped off after his final catch. He came back in, but rest will do everyone some good.
— Rest sounds good about now anyway. I’m going home.
Tags: Adrian Peterson, Browns, Calais Campbell, Carson Palmer, Dwight Freeney, J.J. Nelson, Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, Mike Iupati, Ravens, Seahawks
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With the Pro Bowl fan voting winding down (it ends Dec. 15, and you can vote by going to azcardinals.com/probowl), seven Cardinals are in the top five in their position, led still by free safety Tyrann Mathieu, who is second only to Carolina’s Kurt Coleman (although Coleman has him by 50,000 votes right now.)
Quarterback Carson Palmer remains among the top 10 in overall vote getters at seventh overall (although he’s behind Atlanta running back Devonta Freeman?) The MVP candidate is fifth among quarterbacks. Here’s the full list of the 11 Cardinals who are in the top 10 for Pro Bowl voting at their positions.
— QB Carson Palmer fifth
— RB Chris Johnson seventh
— WR Larry Fitzgerald fourth
— G Mike Iupati fifth
— DT Calais Campbell fifth
— CB Patrick Peterson fourth
— SS Rashad Johnson seventh and Deone Bucannon ninth
— FS Tyrann Mathieu second
— Kick returner David Johnson 10th
— Special teamer Justin Bethel fourth
Tags: Calais Campbell, Carson Palmer, Chris Johnson, David Johnson, Deone Bucannon, Justin Bethel, Larry Fitzgerald, Mike Iupati, Patrick Peterson, Pro Bowl, Rashad Johnson, Tyrann Mathieu
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The Cardinals continue to do well in Pro Bowl voting (which you can do yourself by clicking here or going to azcardinals.com/probowl. Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald has dropped out of the overall top 10, but quarterback Carson Palmer remains there, seventh overall and the fifth quarterback. Fitzgerald is now fourth among wide receivers, behind Odell Beckham, Antonio Brown and Julio Jones.
The top Cardinal at a position remains free safety Tyrann Mathieu, who is still second among his position, 14,000 votes or so behind Carolina’s Kurt Coleman (the Panthers have a fanbase dedicated to the voting; they rank high at most positions.) The other Cardinals ranked in the top 10 at their respective positions:
— RB Chris Johnson is fifth.
— Mike Iupati fell to sixth among guards.
— DT Calais Campbell is fifth.
— CB Patrick Peterson is fourth.
— Rashad Johnson is sixth and Deone Bucannon is eighth among strong safeties.
— David Johnson is 10th among kick returners.
— Justin Bethel is fourth for special teamers.
Pro Bowl voting continues through Dec. 15.
Tags: Calais Campbell, Carson Palmer, Chris Johnson, David Johnson, Deone Bucannon, Justin Bethel, Larry Fitzgerald, Mike Iupati, Patrick Peterson, Pro Bowl voting, Rashad Johnson, Tyrann Mathieu
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Considering how scary it was to see a 6-foot-5, listed-at-331-pound man down on the field to the point where an ambulance had to come on the field to take him away, the news about guard Mike Iupati was incredibly excellent after the game. Bruce Arians said last night Iupati has been cleared going forward. General Manager Steve Keim didn’t quite go that far during his appearance Monday morning on “Doug and Wolf” on Arizona Sports 98.7, but it sure sounds like there is at least a chance Iupati could be ready for next the upcoming Sunday night game against the Bengals. (Iupati looked like he was walking around fine when I saw him on the plane last night.)
“He’s pretty sore, but thank goodness there were no major issues from an injury standpoint,” Keim said.
Some other Keim points on a (very) short night, after the Cardinals didn’t even land at Sky Harbor until 3:15 a.m.:
— Keim wouldn’t say the Cardinals needed to win in Seattle, but echoed the sentiment of some of his players, that it was a “confidence-builder.”
“Playing up there you know you’re going to face adversity at some point,” Keim said. Yet the Cardinals rallied. The Cardinals, by the way, didn’t even win the turnover battle, with a minus-two for the game. No one expected that in Seattle, but now, that’s two Palmer wins there in a row despite losing the turnover faceoff.
— Keim noted the communication issues a couple of times with the pass protection.
— Keim said the drive that really stuck with him was the one ending with Jermaine Gresham to give the Cardinals a lead they didn’t relinquish. For Carson Palmer, that “was a statement drive.”
“That was a drive that really embodies the type of guy he is,” Keim said. “The leader he is, the mental toughness he has and the competitive spirit he has.”
Keim also marveled at the way Palmer continues to keep plays alive with his footwork in the pocket. Palmer was really, really good at that Sunday night.
— Props from Keim to wide receivers Jaron Brown and Brittan Golden, who came up big when no one expected.
— Some other players he noted for playing good games were defensive linemen Calais Campbell and Frostee Rucker. As for wide receiver Michael Floyd, “he has really, really matured,” Keim said, adding that his practice habits are good and Floyd has “completely bought in.”
Tags: Brittan Golden, Calais Campbell, Carson Palmer, Frostee Rucker, Jaron Brown, Michael Floyd, Mike Iupati, Steve Keim
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The Cardinals are a) 6-2 and b) winning with some style points (i.e., winning by scoring a lot with familiar names.) So it’s not a huge surprise to see players doing well in the first round of Pro Bowl voting results. The biggest news is that both quarterback Carson Palmer and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald are currently in the top 10 of all players.
Tyrann Mathieu currently leads all free safeties in voting too.
Palmer is seventh in the voting (and fifth among QBs) with his 87,838 votes. Fitz is 10th overall (and third among receivers) with his 77,709 votes. Palmer trails QBs Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Andy Dalton and Cam Newton. Fitzgerald is behind receivers Julio Jones and Odell Beckham, Jr.
Mathieu’s 31,097 votes have him ahead of Seattle’s Earl Thomas right now.
They aren’t the only Cardinals in the early Pro Bowl mix. A look at the rest of the players in the top 10 at their positions:
RB – Chris Johnson is sixth (43,941; Atlanta’s Devonta Freeman is first at 103,334.)
G – Mike Iupati is second (25,267; Dallas’ Zack Martin is first at 28,158.)
DT – Calais Campbell is fifth (34,038; Cincinnati’s Geno Atkins is first at 54,816.)
CB – Patrick Peterson is fourth (41,066; Carolina’s Josh Norman is first at 64,915.)
SS – Deone Bucannon is fifth (13,205; Oakland’s Charles Woodson is first at 46,698.)
Return specialist – David Johnson is ninth (9,557; Seattle’s Tyler Lockett is first at 23,006.)
Special teamer – Justin Bethel is third (18,330; New England’s Matthew Slater is first at 21,457.)
Tags: Calais Campbell, Carson Palmer, Chris Johnson, Deone Bucannon, Justin Bethel, Larry Fitzgerald, Mike Iupati, Patrick Peterson, Pro Bowl, Tyrann Mathieu
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Bruce Arians was asked about the play of defensive tackle Calais Campbell Monday, and Arians was (as he is wont to do) blunt on the subject.
“He needs to be dominating the game,” Arians said. “He got very close, but he loses his technique sometimes and doesn’t use his hands. He should have had a four-sack day (in Cleveland). His stats were minimal. Frostee (Rucker) had a great day.”
It was interesting to see later in the day profootballfocus.com, in their highlighted analysis of the Cardinals-Browns game, praise Campbell as the best player on the Cards’ defense Sunday.
“Calais Campbell again led the way for the defense at +3.3 (as a grade), including four QB hurries and three defensive stops” was the chatter line.
This isn’t new for Campbell. The coaches have pushed him constantly, and truth be told, Campbell in turn has been pushing himself. He had a great game in the loss to the Rams, and he wasn’t necessarily happy. I asked him then if there was a game after which he was satisfied and he said no. “I guess if there was a game where I was like, I made every play I could, I mean, maybe. But I haven’t done it yet. I haven’t done it yet. I’m hoping for it. I’m chasing it.”
That’s where Arians is with Campbell. The coach never says Campbell is playing poorly. He only says Campbell could be playing better. It’s that quest for perfection all the players and Arians keep bringing up. Campbell is the Cards’ best defensive lineman (although Rucker indeed played very well in Cleveland.) He is playing that way. Arians just wants more.
“He’s got the talent,” Arians said. “He’s got the talent and he’s shown he can. He needs to do it all the time.”
Tags: Bruce Arians, Calais Campbell, Pro Football Focus
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The Cardinals lost their first game of the season Sunday, and Monday, General Manager Steve Keim was predictably upset.
“Losing is not acceptable to me,” Keim said during his appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7. “I’m not very happy. and that’s the way this organization needs to be run. From the top down, we don’t want to lose. That’s what we should get our fans in a habit of having, a team that is not accustomed to losing here.”
There wasn’t a whole lot of breakdown from Keim, because, as noted, the Cardinals were minus-three in turnovers and 1-of-5 in the red zone and that’s how you lose in the NFL. “It’s pretty simple — football 101,” Keim said. The one positive was that the Cardinals still had a chance to win in the closing minutes even though they played poorly, and even that didn’t sound like it improved Keim’s mood much.
— Keim did say he wasn’t sure he had ever seen an interior defensive lineman dominate a game like Calais Campbell did (11 tackles). Keim said he thought it was “maybe his best game as a pro.” Campbell was excellent. But Keim also emphasized Campbell was the only player he was willing to say had a good game. Everyone else might have had flashes, but also mistakes.
— The offensive line was “average,” Keim said, saying he thought they did a decent job against three- and four-man fronts but had trouble if any more players were brought in and the hot receiver wasn’t found immediately.
— There was “good and bad” from guard Mike Iupati. Iupati definitely had some rust, Keim said. (He also said there was good and bad for almost every individual he was asked about.)
— Keim was disappointed in defenders getting out of their gaps and not being in run lanes, noting specifically Kevin Minter and Deone Bucannon (Minter after the game blamed himself for much of it) and bringing up Rashad Johnson’s bad angle taken on one play trying to chase Todd Gurley.
— The good-and-bad applied to QB Carson Palmer too. Keim said rookie David Johnson (again, a good and bad day for him too) was “wide open” on the final fourth-down slant and Palmer just put the ball too high.
— Keim said running back Andre Ellington was close to playing Sunday, and provided he has a good week, Ellington seems to be tracking to be available against the Lions.
— Keim was not asked about this, but I noticed after the game that while he was active, linebacker Sean Weatherspoon did not play Sunday.
— Keim’s final thoughts: “I’m more disappointed for the organization and fanbase. … We’ve just got to bounce back. It’s a long season.”
Tags: Andre Ellington, Calais Campbell, David Johnson, Mike Iupati, Rams, Sean Weatherspoon, Steve Keim
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Now that it’s over, Sunday’s loss for the Cardinals reminded me so much – just from the feeling you’re left with – like a similar loss at University of Phoenix Stadium a few years back. It was the season opener, the Cardinals were coming off a Super Bowl appearance, and they were better than the 49ers team that came into the building that day. But the Cardinals played poorly, they lost 16-10, and it felt like a giant opportunity missed, especially in the division.
Of course, the Cardinals then won 10 their next 14 (even though they lost their next home game too, to Peyton and the Colts) and won the division.
There are differences now, of course. The Seahawks loom as a stout division champion, and there was nothing like that back in 2009 the Cardinals had to fend off. The Rams are going to be a tough out too, because they have a defense that is good. Very good.
But it’s not like the Cardinals drove off the road, or were exposed Sunday. They moved the ball a lot. They just didn’t score touchdowns, which I think, given the first three weeks, is not going to be a long-term problem. They can’t turn the ball over, but that too is something that I don’t think will be a lingering problem.
We’ll see what comes next. It’s an interesting little stretch for the Cards now. A game in Detroit, a week in West Virginia and then a game in Pittsburgh. Then comes the Monday night home game against the Ravens. The Cardinals get the Lions on a short week, because Detroit plays in Seattle tomorrow night. Sunday was not the result Bruce Arians wanted, but it’s what they earned, and you go play the next one.
— Carson Palmer took his share of hits. He was sacked four times, after being sacked only once the first three games. But as for the physical abuse, Palmer shrugged it off.
“It’s an NFC West game,” Palmer said. “That’s the nature of it. It’s a physical game. They are a very physical team, a physical defense. I feel fine, other than obviously what happened.”
— Palmer wasn’t the only one taking some hits. Other than a couple of hard hits during play, wide receiver John Brown was basically bodyslammed on his final catch near the sideline by cornerback Tremaine Johnson. No flag was thrown, although the Cardinals sideline was upset there was not a penalty.
“I as kind of surprised, but that’s part of the game,” Brown said later. “The referees don’t call everything so you just play, do what you’ve got to do.”
— Rams coach Jeff Fisher, on whether his team’s physical play bothered the Cardinals: “We’re going to play hard. I think we can play better, but we’re going to play hard. There was some contact out there, there’s no doubt.”
— It was surprising that the Benny Cunningham fumble-that-wasn’t was blown dead as fast as it was. Watching the replay, it’s hard to believe that from the time Cunningham was first hit to the time the ball popped loose the whistle could sound. Because it was ruled that forward progress had stopped, the play was not reviewable.
— All that said, I didn’t think the officials had a huge factor in this game. That was the turnovers and the red-zone play. To not get a touchdown after first-and-goal from the 1-yard line was a killer. To not ever take the lead at any point was too hard to overcome. It was probably fitting that last drive fizzled out, although it did look like driving for a field goal to win was going to happen – if the Cardinals did anything well Sunday, it was drive into field goal range.
— I thought Calais Campbell played his best game of the year, and he filled up the stat sheet (11 tackles, three tackles for loss, half a QB sack).
— This time, it was the Rams who suffered a crucial injury. Linebacker Alec Ogletree had a team-best 10 tackles and he went out in the third quarter with an ankle injury that needs surgery. It was friendly fire too – a teammate rolled up on his leg during a play. Ogletree is a big part of that deep defense.
— That was only the second time the Cardinals have run for 100 yards in a game under Arians and they have lost. The Cards are now 14-2 in those games.
— Chris Johnson looked good running the ball again. He had 83 yards on 16 carries, 5.2 yards a tote. As for those asking why he wasn’t in the game at the end, David Johnson was in the offensive nickel package (which is what the Cards were in down the stretch) so he was on the field. David Johnson is also the better overall receiver at this point.
— Six of the next eight are on the road. Lots of airplanes in the near-future.
Tags: 49ers, Alec Ogletree, Benny Cunningham, Calais Campbell, Carson Palmer, Chris Johnson, David Johnson, Jeff Fisher, John Brown, Rams, Tremaine Johnson
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