When star running back David Johnson collapsed on the grass during the first half of Sunday's game against the Los Angeles Rams, the Arizona Cardinals held their collective breath.
After piling up more than 2,000 yards from scrimmage --including at least 100 yards in an NFL record 15 straight games-- Johnson's lower leg bent awkwardly under a pair of Rams' tacklers in a moment that had the potential to devastate the Cardinals' 2017 season.
Fortunately for Johnson and Arizona, the former third round draft choice out of Northern Iowa emerged from the locker room in the second half with a smile on his face, and after the game, Arizona head coach Bruce Arians said the Cardinals believed the injury to be minor.
"Nothing serious it looks like right now, we'll have the MRI tomorrow, but he's (Johnson) walking fine and he's in good spirits so knock on wood that there's no ligament damage," Arians said.
A potentially serious injury to Johnson might be the only other issue the Cardinals could endure in an otherwise forgettable 2016 campaign, but it wouldn't have been a fitting way to remember the team's performance on Sunday.
Though Arizona struggled throughout the regular season, the team found success around every corner against Los Angeles in a 44-6 blowout to close out the year on a high note.
"Very, very proud of our guys, I think it speaks volumes about our leadership of our football team these last two weeks," Arians said. "As hard as they've prepared, as hard as they've played, quit isn't in their vocabulary. The veteran guys, they're very proud that we haven't lost a division game on the road in three years and we wanted to keep that going. We're 4-1-1 in the division, even though it's not good enough to win the division, it's still what we were built for to play in the division."
For the second consecutive week, the Cardinals received excellent performances from a secondary that hasn't exactly lived up to expectations this season, despite posting one of the top passing yards per game averages allowed in the NFL. Though the play of star cornerback Patrick Peterson has been excellent, some of the team's more inexperienced corners like Justin Bethel struggled throughout the year until the final two weeks of the regular season.
On Sunday, Bethel returned an interception 68 yards for a touchdown, while sixth round draft choice Harlan Miller --who made his first career start Sunday-- nabbed an interception on a trick play that thwarted a Rams drive.
"Again, Harlan steps up, Justin steps up playing nickel and had a great interception, Harlan had a great interception, can't say enough about the defensive front," Arians said.
Just how competitive is Arians? The Cardinals' 44-6 victory almost wasn't enough to satisfy him, as he was gunning for franchise records in the team's season finale.
After the game, Arians lamented a successful Rams' fake punt that helped Los Angeles continue a series the Cardinals stopped in its tracks. In the end, the head coach wasn't disappointed the fake worked against his team, but he was most upset about the yards gained by Los Angeles which prevented Arizona from attempting to set a franchise record for fewest yards allowed.
"I really got upset because we had the chance to hold them to about 80 yards and Trevon Hartfield was bugging us to death to get in the game and it was his man on the fake punt," Arians said. "But we gave up that screen pass to set that up, but we could have had them in a situation where we could have set some franchise record I think, defensively. Again, very proud of our guys and I think it makes a statement of what's hopefully to come as we build."
The main reason the Cardinals were in such a position to begin with was the play of edge rushers Markus Golden and Chandler Jones, who combined for 4.0 sacks on the afternoon and finished as the first Arizona duo with double digit sacks since 1984.
After the game, Arians said the play of Golden and Jones enabled the team's defensive success throughout the year, and indicated as long as Jones is in the fold (he becomes a free agent after this season), the Cardinals will always have a chance to disrupt opposing offenses.
"Great signs for the future that we have those two guys on the edge and that we've got some disruptive people in the middle, but those two guys on the edge are something special," Arians said.