So much for always going 8-8.
Arizona Cardinals' head coach Bruce Arians' now famous comment about the Los Angeles Rams under former head coach Jeff Fisher has drawn a wedge between the two franchises, and on the final day of the regular season, Arians' team exacted revenger for an early season loss with a 44-6 victory over Los Angeles.
With Sunday's game largely meaningless --it only impacted the two teams' draft positions-- CardinalsSource will spend most of our time in the coming days focusing on season review pieces, but we do want to make note of some quick takeaways from Arizona's season finale.
The manner in which the Cardinals blew out the Rams Sunday demonstrated just how indefensible the team's early season loss at home to Los Angeles turned out to be, as it now looks like the best of many opportunities Arizona squandered this season.
Arizona dominated Los Angeles from start to finish Sunday, despite playing without key pieces like Tyrann Mathieu, Tony Jefferson and Deone Bucannon and despite starting their eighth different offensive line combination of the season. The Cardinals even lost star running back David Johnson to a knee injury early in the first half, and still ran circles around Los Angeles throughout the afternoon.
Entering the final week of the regular season, the Cardinals were a shell of their former selves, having 16 different players on injured reserve and lacking any tangible motivation to finish the year on a strong note. Nevertheless, a team that began the year oozing potential finally put together what will likely go down as its most complete performance of the year, even if it came against one of the NFL's worst teams.
Even though the Cardinals couldn't help Johnson join the 1,000/1,000 club (and it appeared as though they were going to try for it early), the team still notched a handful of impressive feats against Los Angeles.
Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald surpassed Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown in total receptions and finished the year as the NFL's receptions leader, and he caught his first touchdown pass since week five. After capping off another outstanding season, Fitzgerald held onto the football, perhaps knowing it might be the last time he catches a pass in the NFL.
Pass rushers Chandler Jones and Markus Golden each put together strong efforts, as the pair became the first Cardinals' duo to finish the season with double digit sack totals since 1984. With a seven-sack effort on Sunday, Arizona all but assured that the Cardinals will conclude the year with the NFL lead in sacks, a season after finishing just 20th in that category.
Meanwhile, the 44-6 demolition of Los Angeles produced a 38-point margin of victory for Arizona, the team's seventh largest margin of victory in franchise history.
Arizona took firm control of Sunday's game from the get-go, relying on the arm of quarterback Carson Palmer --who had quite a college career playing at the Los Angeles Coliseum-- to put the team ahead early. Palmer wound up completing 20 of 38 passes for 255 yards and three touchdowns, his best performance on the road this season.
Palmer's three touchdowns all found the hands of different receivers, as Fitzgerald was joined in the end zone by wide receiver Jeremy Ross and tight end Darren Fells.
Receiving his most extensive playing time of the season, running back Kerwynn Williams probably helped himself secure a roster spot heading into 2017, as his 12-carry, 60-yard performance showcased his natural agility and impressive speed. Though Williams allowed the Rams to block a punt Sunday, he was filling in for Jefferson in the role and can help Arizona's special teams units in different ways.
Up front, rookie Evan Boehm made his first career start, becoming the fifth different player to start at right guard for Arizona this season. Boehm and the rest of the Cardinals' patchwork offensive line held its own against a particularly challenging Rams' defensive front, allowing just one sack on the afternoon.
Defensively, Golden and Jones were joined by just about everyone in the Rams' backfield, as defensive end Calais Campbell collected a sack in what might turn out to be his final game in a Cardinals' uniform. Additionally, safety D.J. Swearinger and defensive tackle Rodney Gunter entered the sack column on the stat sheet, but the defense's effort was anchored throughout the afternoon by its stars, Golden and Jones.
At the linebacker level, free agent signee Sio Moore proved to be an adequate replacement for Bucannon, as Moore forced a Tavon Austin fumble and collected a team-high seven tackles. Though Moore shouldn't be penciled in as a future starter, he proved he could provide valuable depth and may figure into the team's plans as a third linebacker moving forward.
In the secondary, rookie Harlan Miller made the first start of his career, a converted cornerback filling in at safety as a result of Jefferson's injury. Though he isn't known for his speed, Miller made an impressive interception in the first half when he traversed across the defensive backfield to intercept a pass thrown by Pharaoh Cooper intended for a once-wide open Todd Gurley.
Miller's play coupled with strong performances from the likes of cornerbacks Patrick Peterson and Marcus Cooper was all Arizona needed to shut down a meager Rams' passing attack, led by a quarterback in Jared Goff who is still too green to enjoy sustained success against a defense like Arizona's.
All in all, Arizona found success around every corner Sunday, allowing fans to wonder what might have been if everything rolled their way in 2016. Instead, however, the Cardinals will spend January watching the postseason at home, resigned to thinking about the costly self-inflicted wounds that contributed to the team's downfall this year.
When Arizona's management and coaches sit down to develop the finer details of their offseason agenda, they probably shouldn't turn on the film from Sunday's victory. The blowout win was a best case scenario type of outing for Arizona, showing everything that could go right for the team when all went according to plan. Instead, Arians and general manager Steve Keim would be best served enjoying Sunday's victory for the next few days, before reviewing the early portion of the team's season and determining what exactly what wrong and how the team can pick up the pieces moving forward.