It would have been a perfect Sunday had rookie cornerback Tyrann Mathieu not been lost for the season with a torn ACL and LCL. The Arizona Cardinals kept their playoff hopes alive with a convincing 30-10 win over the NFC West-rival St. Louis Rams with solid situational football on both offense and defense, but it felt tainted with the loss of Mathieu.
You will see some old names highlighted this week, including four players nominated for NFC player-of-the-week honors. In fact, the six players listed here have a combined 58 years of NFL experience.
Not exactly lightweights.
We will be focusing on the positives from this game, because focusing on negatives just seems like nitpicking. With so many positive performances, it's necessary to fill you in on all that was good.
Let's get to it.
WR Larry Fitzgerald (+4.4)
The first of four Cardinals nominated for NFC player of the week, Larry Fitzgerald earned his highest grade since the final week of 2011, when he earned a +5.6 against the Seattle Seahawks. Fitzgerald was more than just the best receiver on the field last Sunday against the Rams, though.
He was also one of the best run-blockers -- his +0.9 grade tied receiver Michael Floyd for the game's third-highest run-blocking grade.
Fitzgerald led the way with 12 receptions for 96 yards (8.0 YPC) and a touchdown. It appeared at times that Carson Palmer was forcing the ball to No. 11; but when it's working, why change it, right? Those 12 receptions came on 12 targets, so it obviously was effective. It also moved him up a list you may not have known existed (with stats these days, there are hundreds of lists not many know exist).
QB Carson Palmer (+4.2)
The second of four Cardinals nominated for NFC player of the week, Palmer's second game against the Rams this season was one of his best. He completed 27 of 32 passes (84.4%) for 269 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions for a 112.1 passer rating.
But he did it without throwing deep, which appeared to be the gameplan against one of the best pass rushes in the NFL. Palmer took only two shots down the field all day, completing one on a great grab from receiver Jaron Brown -- a 32-yard pitch-and-catch to convert a long third down.
Most of his success came from passing over the middle between zero and nine yards. He completed 12 of 13 (92.3%) for 94 yards and a touchdown for a 122.4 rating in that zone.
C Lyle Sendlein (+1.7)
Arizona's offensive line had a lot to do with Palmer's success on Sunday. They all played brilliantly, led by center Lyle Sendlein -- the game's highest-graded lineman in pass blocking (+0.9).
Sendlein also tied Rams left tackle Jake Long for the game's highest run-blocking grade, at +1.6.
It's encouraging to see Sendlein succeed at this point in the season. He is the leader of the offensive line and, as a whole, the unit has performed well of late. Its leader is a big reason for that, and with these last three games being so important, the most vital part of the team playing well is a must.
DE Calais Campbell (+5.9)
Blowing up running plays and getting to the quarterback is what Calais Campbell does best. He showcased his best against the Rams last week despite not recording a sack, earning a +2.7 pass-rushing grade and a +3.0 run-defense grade.
No one will catch Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt (+98.7), but Campbell remains the second-best 3-4 DE in the NFL according to PFF. He is close to a career high with his +32.6 overall grade -- he earned a +33.8 grade last season -- and it's only a matter of time before he's there.
It could happen this week, as he needs +1.3 grade points to surpass the mark.
ILB Karlos Dansby (+4.7)
The third of four Cardinals nominated for NFC player of the week, Karlos Dansby did a bit of everything against the Rams last week. He led the team with eight tackles, recorded his sixth sack of the season (which leads all inside linebackers) and returned an interception for a touchdown in the third quarter.
Dansby's +2.9 grade in pass coverage against the Rams is the highest he earned since his +3.2 performance during wild-card weekend in 2009 against the Green Bay Packers -- before he left the Cardinals for the Miami Dolphins.
The screen-passing game was no good against the Arizona defense largely because of Dansby, who blew up one such play to running back Zac Stacy. It went for a loss of four yards.
OLB John Abraham (+4.3)
And finally, we get to John Abraham, who was given the NFC defensive player of the week award after a six-tackle, three-sack performance against the Rams. The active leader in sacks (133), Abraham is sixth in the league with 11 this season. He's the first Cardinals player with double-digit sacks for a season since Bertrand Berry recorded 14.5 during his Pro Bowl season of 2004 -- his first year with the team.
Abraham was more than just a pass-rushing menace on Sunday, though. He also earned his second-highest grade of the season against the run (+1.3) after notching three stops in the run game, including a loss of seven yards for Stacy on a toss play that did not work.
One thing of note on Abraham's playing time this season: He is on pace to take part in 860 plays in the regular season, which is 54 more than he played last year, including Atlanta's two playoff games. At 35 years old, you have to wonder if he will break down at some point -- especially if the Cardinals somehow sneak into the playoffs.