As expected, Larry Fitzgerald waits for coach news

Posted by Darren Urban on January 12, 2018 – 2:26 pm

Larry Fitzgerald hasn’t yet made a decision about playing this season or not. It was easy to figure that he couldn’t make a choice without knowing who the coach would be, and Fitz confirmed that Friday during an NBC Golf interview.

“I don’t have a head coach right now so there is a lot going on,” Fitzgerald said. “I’m going to take some time, figure it out. Our owner and president, Michael Bidwill, and General Manager Steve Keim are out right now interviewing head coaches. I’m interested to see what is going to happen and I’ll make a decision shortly after (they get a coach), I would imagine.”

It seems that this time of year, Fitz often talks about his future on the golf course. It makes sense, since a) his future has been up in the air in January and b) Fitz’s time in public in January is usually on the golf course. (And Fitz will be out doing things at the Phoenix Open in a couple of weeks too.) Again, there is a holding pattern that was going to be expected while the Cards sort out the coaching situation. Then Fitz can get an idea not only of personality but also how how he might be used in a new system.

UPDATE: Later in the day, Fitz had an interview with the NFL Network. His retirement has nothing to do with Bruce Arians and Carson Palmer, he stressed, and “I’ll go as long as I feel I can play at a high level.”

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The workload of the Honey Badger

Posted by Darren Urban on January 3, 2018 – 1:10 pm

Even Tyrann Mathieu had hoped he would’ve played a little better this season, but he did improve as the season went on and was healthy. And not only was the Honey Badger healthy, he played a lot. It’s remarkable that the safety, who didn’t play a full season until this year, ended up leading the entire NFL in snaps played.

Mathieu finished with 1,263 snaps on the field — 1,058 on defense and another 207 on special teams. That topped Tennessee cornerback Adoree Jackson’s 1,258 (1,022 on defense, 224 on special teams, and 12 on offense.) There were a handful of players who played more on defense (including former teammates and safeties Tony Jefferson and D.J. Swearinger) but that was in part because the Cardinals’ sixth-ranked defense was able to get off the field more often. It wasn’t like Mathieu rested much. He sat out only six defensive snaps all season.

Five Cardinals played at least 1,000 snaps this season — Mathieu, Chandler Jones, Patrick Peterson, A.Q. Shipley (who played 100 percent of the Cards’ 1,124 offensive snaps) and Larry Fitzgerald.

But the other four don’t grab the attention as much as Mathieu, who truly maximized his first season of total health.

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Seahawks — and the season — aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on December 31, 2017 – 7:59 pm

It was late in Sunday’s game, right after Phil Dawson kicked his field goal to put the Cardinals ahead by two with a little more than two minutes left, when offensive coordinator/O-line coach Harold Goodwin found someone on the sideline and exclaimed, “We’ve got no linemen left.”

Goodwin smiled, because the reality was that he was right and that the Cardinals had also somehow made it work well enough to win – again – in the one place they want to win more than any other. It was also fitting given how the year unfolded. The Cardinals very well could have had issues even if everyone had played this year. But they wouldn’t be convinced they wouldn’t have overcome it and found a way into the postseason, not after getting eight wins despite their starting offensive line getting all of eight snaps together and their MVP-type running back playing less than a game and their quarterback less than half a season.

“It’s really hard to walk away from this,” Bruce Arians said. “It wasn’t hard to walk away four weeks ago, when you looked at what we were playing with. But to win three out of four, it’s very hard to walk away from that.”

Arians insisted he hasn’t made a decision. We’ll know soon enough. But for all the ups and downs of the season, it is remarkable they went 8-8.

“We’re just happy we finished the way we did,” defensive lineman Frostee Rucker said. “We didn’t want to finish 7-9. We wanted to finish 8-8.”

— The Cardinals, after all that, were the only 8-8 team in the league. They will draft 15th in the first round – unless, of course, they make a trade.

— Kerwynn Williams set a career-best with 23 carries (for 75 yards) and Elijhaa Penny added 39 yards and a touchdown. The Cards, even with all the offensive line issues, ran the ball decently. They struggled late, but it was enough. Penny was huge on the winning field-goal drive.

— There probably wasn’t a better place for Chandler Jones to try and get two sacks to break the franchise record, but there it was – and Jones missed out on a couple more, losing one on a facemask and having another near-miss. To get 17 sacks in a season is impressive. To have Jones do it in the first year of his new contract bodes very well. That trade couldn’t have worked out better.

— After the first half, it looked like Larry Fitzgerald was going to have a good shot at the NFL receptions title for a second straight season. Eight catches in the first half, but none in the second – although he was targeted. He and Drew Stanton just couldn’t connect. Fitz needed just one catch to set a career-high in a season, and instead he had 109, tying his big 2015 season.

Whether he gives it another try in 2018, well, that too is up in the air. But you knew that.

— You can argue about Drew Stanton’s ceiling but he did go 3-1 as a starter and Fitz tweeted he was playing on a torn ACL. I’m not sure how much medical background Fitz has, but that says a lot about Stanton. UPDATE: Stanton said it was not an ACL, but a bone bruise.

— Dawson bounced back so well this season. When Arians mentions winning three of the last four, he was a big reason why. He made 22 of his final 24 field goals, and one of those was blocked. It’s interesting that the Cardinals have won two games in a row in Seattle thanks to field goals.

— The Seahawks’ big second half cost the Cards’ defense a chance to be top five in the rankings. They finished sixth.

— It’s New Year’s Day tomorrow, but certainly no holiday, not for the Cardinals. Exit interviews await, as well as, well, a lot of stuff. One way or another.

“There are a ton of decisions this offseason,” cornerback Patrick Peterson said. “Steve Keim has his work cut out for him.”

— Time to fly home. The offseason is here.

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A playoff, sort of, Friday before the Seahawks

Posted by Darren Urban on December 29, 2017 – 2:45 pm

One game left, and for one team, so much is on the line. “We’re anticipating by far their best game of the year,” Bruce Arians said about the Seahawks. “It’s a playoff game for them.” This is true. The Seahawks have to win and have the Falcons lose at home against the Panthers to make it to the playoffs for a sixth straight season.

The Cardinals could spoil that. We’ll see how it goes.

“I keep telling our guys it’s a playoff game for us but I didn’t really feel a playoff this week for us,” Arians said. “I think we’re ready to play, but the playoffs are so different.”

The Cards have never really had a problem getting up for the game in Seattle. I mean, last year, the Cards were already eliminated and they still went out and played well – woefully undermanned on the offensive line – and beat the Seahawks. But the Seahawks knew they were already going to win the division. There was no urgency on their part. That’ll be different. It could have an impact.

— The Cards, however, did win last year. Their offensive line, to jog your memory, was John Wetzel at left tackle, Mike Iupati at left guard, A.Q. Shipley at center, Taylor Boggs at right guard and Earl Watford at right tackle. Boggs even got hurt, forcing rookie center Evan Boehm to fill in.

This year, it’s rookie Will Holden-Alex Boone-Shipley-Boehm-Wetzel (unless Watford is healthy enough to come back and start.) So what does last year’s win mean?

“Just to let them know it can be done,” Arians said. “It’s just a matter of going out and beating your guy one-on-one.”

— The secondary was torn up last year too, with Tony Jefferson getting hurt early and Marcus Cooper down (and Tyrann Mathieu already on IR), so Brandon Williams was playing cornerback and Justin Bethel and Harlan Miller were out there. Looking back, it was indeed an impressive performance – knowing, of course, the offense had both Carson Palmer and David Johnson. Those two are on IR this year, so …

— As of right now, the Cardinals are picking 13th – right where they were choosing in the first round last year. My cursory math says they could pick as high as 11 (if they lose and a couple of other teams win), and as low as 18 (with a win and certain teams lose), but likely somewhere in between. We’ll see how that turns out.

— As for next year’s opponents, those are already set. The Cardinals have – of course, judging in December of 2017, long before next year’s rosters are set and injuries happen – a rough road schedule next year.

— Of all the records and plateaus Larry Fitzgerald has reached this season, there isn’t really anything out there in this game – save for his catch streak, which will reach 211 games and equal Tony Gonzalez for the second-longest ever. Fitz has a chance to lead the league in catches for a second straight season, however. He has 101 receptions, which trails Miami’s Jarvis Landry by two. Landry and the Dolphins play at home against Buffalo, which is trying to make the playoffs.

— A win, and Arians becomes the all-time winningest coach in franchise history, snapping the tie he has with former coach Ken Whisenhunt. Before Whisenhunt was hired by the Cardinals, he was close with Arians – Whisenhunt was the Steelers’ offensive coordinator, Arians was the quarterbacks coach. They lived in the same neighborhood, played a lot of golf together. Whisenhunt tried to hire Arians on his Cardinals’ staff at one point.

Both have 49 total wins – Arians 48 in the regular season, one in the playoffs, with Whisenhunt’s split at 45-4.

“To say I played for the all-time winningest coach and the second all-time winningest coach, that’s not really that good but it’s saying I was part of the best era in Cardinals history,” Fitzgerald said. “That’s pretty cool.”

— A lot could happen this offseason. But first, we go to Seattle.

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The pursuit of happiness (for Smokey Brown)

Posted by Darren Urban on December 27, 2017 – 12:47 pm

Here’s the thing about John Brown. He is well-liked. You could see it in the reaction after he scored his touchdown Sunday against the Giants — Drew Stanton ran into the end zone dancing, Larry Fitzgerald delivered a patented Fitz-tackle, and then Fitz and Jermaine Gresham picked Smoke up and carried him a bit in celebration. And then you heard it after the game:

“It’s great to see John come back and get that touchdown,” coach Bruce Arians said. “He’s still not full speed, but it meant a lot to him to get out there and play. It meant a lot to me to see him play.”

“It’s a lot of fun when you see good things happen to those guys,” Fitzgerald said. “Smoke needed that, we needed that, and hopefully, we can get a little bit more done next week.”

That’s another reason why Brown’s status is so interesting heading into the offseason. No, the fact his teammates and his coach want him to do well isn’t why, unto itself, you bring a guy back. Brown’s market — such that it will be, after two years of injury-impacted struggles, including a disappointing 21-299-3 line this season — doesn’t figure to be intense or expensive. He is light years from his first two seasons, in which he had a 1,000 yards in 2015 and multiple huge plays as a rookie in 2014. Will the Cardinals bring him back as a potential piece, a wild card bonus if he can stay healthy? Given his health history, the Cards can’t pencil him in (if he came back) high on the depth chart. But the guy, when he has been right, has proven he can make plays.

And that makes everyone happy.

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Keim: Learn from 2017, no “woe is me”

Posted by Darren Urban on December 26, 2017 – 8:16 am

The Cardinals are analyzing their free-agents-to-be and with some of them, the team has/will be formulating extension offers, General Manager Steve Keim said Tuesday during an appearance on 98.7, Arizona’s Sports Station. The players Keim wants back are, not surprisingly, not only competitors on the field but good in the locker room. That was a focus last year as well.

“That’s an ongoing process and we have made some of those players extension offers,” Keim said. “The bottom line is we have a lot of work to do, as I said last week.

“We’ve dealt with enough adversity this year with the injuries and with some of the losses, so we have to make sure we use this season and, in particular, our issues that we have dealt with, as learning things, where we can look back and grow from it instead of having the attitude of ‘woe is me.’ That is something I believe in wholeheartedly, not only on the scouting side of it but as an organization in general.”

— The many injuries have made it more difficult to evaluate some key players here and there, Keim acknowledged, but “at the end of the day there are still one-on-one battles these guys have to win.”

— Does having a chance to knock the Seahawks out of the playoffs mean a lot for Sunday? “Anytime you are playing a division rival it’s big regardless of what is at stake,” Keim said. “We are all competitors. We want to win every game. In my opinion, you can’t look at where your draft slot could potentially be. Let the chips fall where they may. We owe it to our fans, we owe it to our organization to compete every week and to try and put the best product on the field. We will deal with draft and free agency when it comes. This week our mindset is to go up to Seattle and get a win.”

— The Cardinals’ first shutout since 1992 “says a lot of things about players on the field and the character in our locker room.” Keim credited the game planning of defensive coordinator James Bettcher. He also said he though $LB Deone Bucannon not only played his best game of the season, he had arguably his best game in the NFL, period. Chandler Jones provided pressure and drew a couple of holding calls, Frostee Rucker and Karlos Dansby are invaluable leaders, and safety Antoine Bethea was “exceptional” in getting a pair of interceptions.

— Keim added his thoughts to the huge game of wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who Keim said took over the game offensively. “There’s no doubt he willed us to win on offense.”

— Keim added that it was nice to see John Brown contribute with a touchdown and a key third-down conversion with his two catches.

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A shutout and Giants aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on December 24, 2017 – 7:54 pm

I’ve covered the Cardinals for a long time, and I’ve seen them shut out a couple of (ugly) times. But I’ve never seen them pitch a shutout before Sunday – the first time the franchise has done it since 1992 and only the second time it’s happened since the team moved to Arizona in 1988.

No, the Giants aren’t very good and have lost all of their offensive stars, but it means something that the Cardinals still have that kind of consistent performance. It’s hard not to play what-if, the way this defense is performing. Win in Washington, like they probably should have, and beat the Tom Savage-Texans, like they probably should have, and next week in Seattle is much different.

But instead, the Cardinals will play spoiler, and while that isn’t ideal, it means something. If the Cards can knock the Seahawks out of the postseason, that would mean something.

— I truly believe that Larry Fitzgerald is undecided about playing next year. Actually, I think it’s not just about what he wants to do but also what this team looks like – who is coach, who is quarterback – that will play a factor. Fitz has not told me this. But it is logical.

Regardless, what a showing to close out 2017 at home Sunday. Fitz is fun to watch. Always has been. That the fun has not fallen off as he plays at age 34 – he’s the Cardinals’ best playmaker, for goodness sake – says so much about how good he really is.

— Chandler Jones didn’t get a sack, so he’ll need to do some work against Russell Wilson to get the franchise record for a season. He remains at 15, and Simeon Rice has the record at 16½. Two things on that: One, getting two sacks on Wilson –given his line and his penchant for running around in the pocket – is realistic. Also, Jones had another good pass-rushing game Sunday. He didn’t get a sack, but Pro Football Focus had him with four pressures of Eli Manning.

— The Cardinals rarely over the recent past have had teams miss field goals against them. It’s only happened twice this season. But one was Sunday, a 33-yarder from Aldrick Rosas that obviously allowed the shutout to happen. It doesn’t take away from the Cards’ excellent performance, but sometimes, you need a little luck to blank an NFL team.

— Back to Fitz. I’ve seen him throw a ton of passes over the years, in practice, in OTAs, messing around on the sideline. I’m not talk about plays, per se, but chucking the ball 40 yards on an accurate line back to one of the equipment guys after a practice catch, for instance. I’ve always felt they should try that once in a while. It doesn’t help that he’s not a threat as a runner out of the backfield, but still. The play was supposed to be a bomb to J.J. Nelson, but Nelson got knocked down and Jaron Brown instead got the 21-yard catch.

“I was hoping I was going to be able to throw it deeper, but I had to take what the defense gives me,” Fitzgerald said with a smile. “That’s what I was taught.”

Said QB Drew Stanton, “He’s coming for my job probably.”

— I thought Stanton was solid. He did exactly what Arians was hoping he would do – got them in the end zone, got them a win. The one time Arians has lost in Seattle since coming to Arizona, Stanton was the starting quarterback when Carson Palmer was hurt in 2014. Stanton gets a chance to redeem that next week.

— More (happy) Fitz: He noted that Jaron Brown, with two catches (putting Brown at 30 receptions) earned a $500,000 contract incentive. (Editor’s note: I have not confirmed this is true, but Fitz tends to be accurate when it comes to money.) “I made him an extra $500,000, so I’m happy for him and his family,” Fitzgerald said. “I’m glad I could be a part of that. Merry Christmas, Jaron!”

— Deone Bucannon looked great, and that’s important. You want to see him continue to come back from the ankle surgery that clearly set him back. Robert Nkemdiche too, getting involved, will hopefully be a spark to get him going into next season. Oh, and the signing of veteran safety Antoine Bethea has been a good one. Five picks? And he’s done a solid job all year.

— I could go on but I won’t. It’s Christmas Eve. Hopefully you’re reading this, but I’ve got a family to get home to. Happy holidays and a Merry Christmas to all.

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TDs on the wish list, Friday before the Giants

Posted by Darren Urban on December 22, 2017 – 3:04 pm

Who wouldn’t want a touchdown for Christmas?

The Cardinals certainly do. They’d like for the move to Drew Stanton to mean a TD on their first possession. They’d like to break that paydirt drought that has grown to more than 10 quarters. It’s gonna be Christmas Eve, after all. Are the Cards ready to do that? Bruce Arians hopes so, but he can’t predict it.

“You don’t know until you get in a game,” Arians said. “It’s totally different than practice. (Red zone) is one of the looks that’s hard to get from the scout team.”

Of course, it doesn’t have to be in the red zone. They’d take a 50-yard Stanton-to-J.J. Nelson bomb. They’d take a one-yard Elijhaa Penny plunge. They’d take another Ricky Seals-Jones end zone sighting. They’d certainly take a Fitz fade.

“B.A. talks about it, I talk about it, it’s simple execution,” offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said. “You go back to last week (in Washington), there are plays there to be made. Ball is a little high or (tackle) Will Holden gives up a sack, little things. Many opportunities, and we didn’t get it done. I kick myself all the time, we score one touchdown, we probably win that game.”

We know what’s on the Cardinals’ wish list.

— The roof at University of Phoenix Stadium will be open Sunday for the game. Temperatures are supposed to be in the upper 60s, so dress accordingly.

— When Carson Palmer went down, the Cardinals knew they were going to have to rely on their defense. The defense knew this, and they have basically played like it. Starting with the Seahawks game in Week 10 (the Cards still only allowed 10 points the game before against the 49ers), the Cardinals are the No. 1 defense in the NFL. They haven’t been perfect, but if the offense had been able to do a little more against the Seahawks, Texans and Redskins, the Cards would be in a different place, even with all the injuries.

— Linebacker Chandler Jones said he’s happy with his 15 sacks so far because it accomplishes his goal – which is an improvement over the previous season. “It was always to do better than last year,” Jone said.

The bar is going to be pretty high for 2018, then.

“Exactly,” Jones said. “Because I know next year around training camp, you guys are going to be asking me, ‘What’s your goal?’ And I’ll say,  ‘Better than last year, uhhhhh.’ ”

— In what could be Larry Fitzgerald’s final home game, he needs eight catches for 100 on the season and 18 yards for 1,000. It would be fitting for him to get both.

— The Giants have three players from near the Cardinals’ practice facility. Defensive end Avery Moss played at Tempe Corona del Sol, linebacker Devon Kennard played across the freeway at Desert Vista in Ahwatukee, and running back Paul Perkins is from Chandler High School.

— Karlos Dansby likely will play Sunday, but with Josh Bynes out, rookie Haason Reddick has a chance to play some inside linebacker for the first time since moving outside following Markus Golden’s season-ending injury. That would be good. Reddick’s future is inside in this defense.

— A better draft pick awaits if the Cardinals lose out, but the players would like to climb back to 8-8 (especially because it would mean beating the Seahawks in Seattle.), Besides, “you don’t want to put bad things on tape,” cornerback Patrick Peterson said. “We have great guys in this locker room that understand that.”

— For all you seeking a retro look, the Cardinals will finally be wearing their red pants with their red jerseys Sunday. It’s a festive look after all.

See you Christmas Eve.


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Cards will need hard look at receiving position

Posted by Darren Urban on December 20, 2017 – 12:08 pm

It’s hard not to notice, when you jump on the Cardinals’ stat page to see where Larry Fitzgerald’s numbers are and then the disparity with the rest of the receiving corps — a group that once again was expected to be a strength but like 2016, has not been. With two games left in the regular season, it is still the departed Andre Ellington (who was cut five games ago) second on the team with 33 catches. Fitzgerald’s 92 receptions is nine more catches than all the other wide receivers this season combined.

If David Johnson had been healthy all season, you’d expect a running back to be high on the receptions list, just like last year. But Johnson didn’t even make it through a game, and once he went down, the pressure went to the receivers to make up for it in the passing game. There are factors involved here — the pass protection has not been consistent, especially with all the injuries on the offensive line. Starting quarterback Carson Palmer only played half the season. But it’s clear that receiver — after only the QB spot and offensive line — will be a position of focus for General Manager Steve Keim this offseason.

Even if Fitzgerald comes back to play another season (which he has not said he will for sure yet), the Cardinals need to address wide receiver. John Brown and Jaron Brown will be unrestricted free agents. J.J. Nelson, who started strong and then struggled through inconsistency catching the ball, will be back. Chad Williams enters an important offseason after a nondescript rookie year. Brittan Golden, who is more important on special teams, has to heal from a broken arm and is also a free-agent-to-be.

After 2015, when the receiving unit was excellent and looked like it would be for a few years, the group hasn’t been the same. Losing Michael Floyd and having John Brown’s production fall off so precipitously has been a killer. Again, other spots will get more attention on offense. The quarterback thing has reached a critical point, and the long-term offensive line has to be found. But wide receiver will also be in the spotlight.

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Paydirt drought, and Washington aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on December 17, 2017 – 4:36 pm

It was the kind of catch you just expect Larry Fitzgerald to make, because he’s simply done it so many times before – fourth down, a gotta-have-it-grab from the guy you go to when you gotta have it. But the ball dribbled out as Fitz hit the ground. So close, just like the rest of the day for the Cards.

“None bigger than the one I needed to make at the end of the game there,” Fitzgerald said. “Going a whole 60 minutes not scoring a touchdown offensively, that’s obviously below standard.”

It’s been a whole 60 minutes two games in a row. Plus the second half of the game before that. It’s not that the offense is doing nothing. The Cards had 141 yards rushing Sunday, and reached the red-zone six times. It’s that they can only get three points at a time, which makes winning so hard.

Blaine Gabbert will remain the starter at quarterback. Gabbert took the blame but had no specifics on why the offense stalls so much. As well as Gabbert began his games as a Cardinal, the recent work, even behind the beat-up offensive line, will give the Cardinals’ braintrust a lot to consider when looking at Gabbert for the future

— Larry Fitzgerald is 18 yards shy of 1,000 yards receiving this season, and he would have been a lot closer had he been able to make that catch.

— Speaking of missed catches, tight end Troy Niklas was understandably upset with himself for not pulling in that last would-be touchdown. He was a stand-up guy to talk about it. Truth be told, if he doesn’t pull a sure interception away from linebacker Zach Vigil early in the drive, he wouldn’t have even had a chance to get the TD.

— Bruce Arians was right. One touchdown would’ve been enough. I think of two specific times: After the long onsides kick to open the second half – the fans, who booed the Redskins off and on all day even though they led the whole game, were ready to turn if the Cards could’ve put it in the end zone – and then, of course, right before the half. Two straight plays to D.J. Foster were open for TDs. Foster didn’t look soon enough for the first one – off his helmet incomplete, and it’s possible he and Gabbert didn’t see the same hot read – and the second one was batted away with Foster by himself in the end zone. Epic levels of frustration there.

— If Brittan Golden was going to end up with a fractured arm on his last excellent punt return of 15 yards to set up a short field, it would’ve been nice to reward him with a win. Golden is one of those guys you root for, busting his butt to have whatever role he can fill.

— Chandler Jones sack counter: He got one Sunday, giving him 15 on the season, putting him third on the franchise single-season list and putting him 1½ shy of Simeon Rice’s franchise record with two games left. Jones also pressured Washington QB Kirk Cousins a ton of other times.

— You know D.J. Swearinger wanted this one. And he made sure to let the Cardinals sideline – and coach Bruce Arians – know it on one of the last plays of the game, an incompletion to Fitz on third down, the play before Gabbert’s final throw.

— Speaking of that final throw and Swearinger, there was a moment where Swearinger’s emotion almost cost the Redskins dearly. After the ball came loose from Fitz – on fourth down – Swearinger ripped his helmet off in celebration. The problem? You can’t take your helmet off on the field. If it had been third down, the Cards would have had an automatic penalty. But because it was fourth down and it came after the incompletion, it ultimately didn’t hurt Washington.

— Phil Dawson seems to be well past his accuracy problems, right?

— Speaking of special teams, Andy Lee has had a tremendous second half of the season. He’s punting like he did when he was dominating as a 49er all those years (and making life miserable for the Cardinals).

— If you would’ve told me the Cardinals would outrush Washington, 141-31, I would’ve expected a win going away. The defense did enough to win.

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