Arizona Cardinals: Championship should’ve been won in 2015
The Arizona Cardinals of 2015 were built to win a Super Bowl championship, but in the end the club came up just a bit short
The year was 2015, and it was Bruce Arians’ third season as the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals. General manager Steve Keim had put together a roster that was loaded with talent. Never before had the Cardinals had a better chance of winning a Super Bowl title.
Their regular season was a thing of beauty. Arians’ group was almost flawless, finishing the campaign with a 13-3 record and an NFC West division championship. The 489 points scored by the squad were the most in franchise history.
Arizona had been really good the year before as well. The 2014 Cards had finished 11-5, but were eliminated from the playoffs in the first round. A season-ending knee injury suffered by quarterback Carson Palmer in week 10 shattered any hopes they may have had for a Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Palmer’s offseason rehabilitation went beautifully, however, and the Cardinals leader entered ’15 stronger than ever. The veteran signal-caller showed no ill effects from the previous season’s devastating setback. Palmer set a Cards’ record with 4,671 yards, completing 63.7% of his throws and tossing 35 touchdown passes.
Palmer’s outstanding performance lifted the play of the Arizona wide receivers. Two wideouts reached the 1000-yard plateau, a sure indication of how productive Big Red’s passing attack was in ’15. Larry Fitzgerald caught 109 balls for 1,215 yards, while John Brown hauled in 65 passes for 1,003.
By the end of the year, the Cardinals had become aware of the fact that running back David Johnson was a budding superstar. The rookie finished with 1,038 yards from scrimmage and 13 total touchdowns. Chris Johnson was the team’s primary ballcarrier before being injured in week 12, so David Johnson accumulated his impressive numbers despite limited touches.
On the defensive side of the ball, one Card in particular stood out. Tyrann Mathieu had finally fully recovered from the torn ACL he had suffered in 2013 as a rookie. The “Honey Badger” tallied 80 tackles, five interceptions, 17 passes defensed and a sack, and was a candidate for the NFL’s defensive MVP award.
In late December, however, the bottom fell out on the defensive back. Late in a game against the Philadelphia Eagles that Arizona was comfortably ahead in, Mathieu suffered yet another serious knee injury. Why he was still playing in the late stages of such a lopsided contest was never answered satisfactorily by anyone.
A savvy acquisition by Keim in October provided the defense with some much-needed pass-rushing help. Dwight Freeney was on a golf course when he received an invitation from Arians to come to the desert. The former Indianapolis Colt great registered eight sacks in just 11 games, which was good enough to lead the Cardinals.
The first round of the playoffs produced one of the most memorable victories in Cardinals history. The Green Bay Packers Jeff Janis almost ruined it when the wide out caught a game-tying Hail Mary pass from Aaron Rodgers with 0:00 left on the clock. But two Fitzgerald receptions in overtime (one being the game-winner) ultimately resulted in a 26-20 triumph for Arizona.
The following week’s NFC Championship game loss at the Carolina Panthers was heartbreaking. The Cardinals were thrashed 49-15 in a game in which they just never got anything going. Palmer served up four interceptions and fumbled twice, ending his incredible campaign with one of the worst performances of his playing career.
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Many prognosticators thought that the Cards had a real shot at a Super Bowl ring entering the 2015 season. As it turned out, they finished their quest just two wins short of fulfilling the championship dream. It was certainly a fun ride, but one that fell just short of the happy ending that the “Red Sea” was hoping for.