It’s been an amazing season for the Arizona Cardinals. Not only did the team achieve its best regular-season record in the franchise's 118-year history at 13-3 (including a nine-game winning streak) and led the league in total offense, its players amassed hefty accomplishments in the process.
Quarterback Carson Palmer had the best year of his career and, more importantly, stayed healthy. The always classy Larry Fitzgerald, who re-upped his contract with Arizona before the season, was one of the top receivers in the NFL and also smashed team records along the way. And rookie running back David Johnson simply was on fire.
Sure, there were a few bumps in the road, including star safety Tyrann Mathieu's injury, but that woe was tempered by all the glory that Arizona enjoyed. The Cardinals vanquished divisional rivals, won every prime time game they played, and triumphed during a few nail-biters.
Oh, yeah, and the Cardis emerged victorious from one of the greatest playoff games ever played last weekend against the Green Bay Packers.
There were scads of outstanding moments for the team this season, and we’re definitely hoping for a more. Like, say, during this weekend’s showdown with the Carolina Panthers for the NFC championship Sunday, and in Super Bowl 50 next month against either Denver Broncos or the New England Patriots.
Arizona is a three-point underdog this weekend against the Panthers. But the Red Birds have overcome the odds many times this season, and if players can show the same chutzpah that got them to the NFC title game, its definitely possible they will make the trip to Levi’s Stadium in Northern California in early February.
So as we look forward to Arizona's making their final drive toward the Super Bowl, we’d like to offer our fellow members of the BirdGang a look back at some of the best moments from this season.
10. Tyrann Mathieu swats Drew Brees’ pass.
The Cardinals were dealt a major blow when defensive standout Tyrann Mathieu suffered the second ACL injury of his burgeoning career in December, cutting short what was shaping up to be a fantastic season for the 23-year-old free safety. That’s because the “Honey Badger” was fierce in the 14 games in which he played, tearing through Arizona’s opponents while posting a career-best 80 tackles and five picks. (Some sports wags called him one of “best blitzers in the NFL,” and they weren't wrong.)
One of our favorite Mathieu moments came was when he leaped into the air and swatted down a pass by New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees in week one that could’ve been a turnover had Kareem Martin not let the ball touch the ground. Who knew honey badgers could fly?
Aaron Rodgers sacked again, fumbles, Cory Redding returns it for the TD. pic.twitter.com/7048vIOP7D— ⓂarcusD (@_MarcusD_) December 27, 2015
9. Cory Redding's fumble recovery.
Arizona’s defense was merciless to Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers when the Red Birds routed the Packers, 38-8, in December. Cardinals defenders turned A-Rodge into a tackling dummy by sacking him nine times through the game. On one such occasion, Cory Redding was there to scoop up the fumble and run the ball in for the TD. And he did it with style, stiff-arming a Green Bay behemoth and strutting like wrestling legend Ric Flair after the score. No, seriously.
8. Cory Redding's one-handed pick.
It certainly wasn’t Cory Redding’s only stellar moment of 2015, as the dude also managed a one-handed interception of a throw by Lions quarterback Matt Stafford in the blowout of Detroit. And it would’ve turned into touchdown to boot, had Stafford not scrambled and taken Redding out at the five-yard line.
7. Carson Palmer’s long bomb.
Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer had an MVP-worthy season, his uneven performance in last weekend's victory over the Packers aside, racking up 4,671 yards and nailing 35 touchdown passes, both of which are team records. One of his biggest throws of the season so far, however, was a 64-yard bomb to wideout J.J. Nelson that helped Arizona topple the Cincinnati Bengals, his former team, in November.
6. David Johnson's 108-yard kickoff return.
Running back David Johnson had plenty of highlights this season (including rushing for 187 yards and scoring three touchdowns against the Philadelphia Eagles last month), which makes his inclusion on the short list of potential “Rookie of the Year” candidates a no-brainer. And one of his biggest moments came when he returned the opening kickoff in Arizona’s early-season contest with the Chicago Bears for a touchdown.
5. Justin Bethel’s pick-six against San Francisco.
Arizona’s 47-7 rout of the San Francisco 49ers in September kicked off with this spectacular pick six by Cardinals cornerback Justin Bethel in the game’s opening quarter. After grabbing a Colin Kaepernick pass out of mid-air with a leaping catch, the three-time Pro Bowler raced into the end zone for TD, the first of many scored by the Red Birds that afternoon.
4. Tony Jefferson's Ravens-killing interception.
Tony Jefferson snuffed out a come-from-behind victory by Baltimore when the Cardinals safety snatched up an end zone pass from Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco in the closing moments of a Monday night nail-biter in October. It helped the Cards clinch a 26-18 win, their fifth of the season, and made the crowd at University of Phoenix Stadium go bonkers.
3. Dwight Freeney's strip-sack fumble.
Victory was similarly snatched from the jaws of defeat during Arizona’s hard-fought battle against the Vikings last month, thanks to the heroics of veteran linebacker Dwight Freeney. Arizona was clinging to a three-point lead in the closing seconds with Minnesota deep in their territory and gearing up to go for a game-winning touchdown or tie the game with a field goal.
Enter Freeney, who went full-tilt boogie with his trademark spin move to get to Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater in time to strip sack the QB, recover the football, and help his squad eek out the win. Arizona clinched a playoff berth with the W while Freeney got a well-deserved $200,000 incentive bonus for the play.
2. Larry Fitzgerald’s 75-yard run
It's not surprising that future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald was winded in post-game interviews after Arizona's big overtime playoff win over the Green Bay Packers last weekend. After all, Fitz had just finished almost single-handedly winning the game, including bolting 75 yards past befuddled Packers players to set up the winning touchdown — which Fitz scored one play later. It cemented his status the greatest athlete in Valley of the Sun sports history.
1. Andre Ellington's sideline run and Drew Stanton's big dance
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A trio of unforgettable moments occurred after Cardinals running back Andre Ellington galloped 48 yards down the sidelines for a touchdown in the final minutes of Arizona's mid-November battle against the Seahawks at CenturyLink Field in Seattle.
First off, it secured a Red Birds win in a tight game against a dreaded divisional rival on enemy turf, a rarity in recent years in the home of the "12th Man." It also resulted in a look of gobsmacked shock on Seahhawks head coach Pete Carroll's face, a priceless sight on national TV for Arizona fans after years of watching their team get trounced by the 'Hawks.
Then there was backup QB Drew Stanton’s adorably awkward victory dance along the sidelines during the play. He shimmied, shuffled, and spazzed — in addition to shaking his tail-feathers and waving his arms like one of those inflatable figures seen at used-car lots. We hear that Drew also does a pretty mean version of The Dougie.