The 2013 NFL season came and went too fast, it seems, though that's the case every year. And for the Arizona Cardinals, the season could have been better -- but not much.
They finished 10-6 after a last-second field goal by San Francisco 49ers kicker Phil Dawson gave Arizona a 23-20 loss to end the year. No playoffs, unfortunately, but the Cardinals can be proud that there is a foundation laid for the future.
Thanks in large part to general manager Steve Keim, head coach Bruce Arians and a host of veterans leading younger players, the immediate future is bright for the Cards.
Here is how Pro Football Focus graded key Cardinals in the season finale against the 49ers.
RT Eric Winston (+3.6)
He struggled at times this season, but veteran right tackle Eric Winston put together his two best games according to PFF in the final two games, ending the season by not allowing a single pressure against the 49ers.
His +3.6 pass-blocking grade is the highest PFF has given him since the site began grading games in 2008. Leaving a good taste in management's mouth could pave the way for Winston's return in 2014; he is set to be a free agent and won't be 31 years old until Nov. this year. It's possible he could get a mid-level multiyear deal based on how he finished the season -- he did not allow a sack over the final six games.
WR Andre Roberts (+1.2)
Also set to hit free agency is wideout Andre Roberts. He had a rough season after being booted from the starting spot by second-year receiver Michael Floyd, but like Winston, Roberts finished with a strong performance against an NFC West rival.
Roberts had three receptions for 74 yards (24.7 YPC), including a 34-yard touchdown that tied the game in the fourth quarter. If not for two Jay Feely missed field goals earlier in the contest, his score could have been a game-winner. His 43 receptions for 471 yards (11.0 YPC) and two touchdowns this season is a step back from last year, and that could hurt him come free agency.
RB Rashard Mendenhall (-2.1)
Don't be fooled by the bulk rushing numbers. Rashard Mendenhall had a very mediocre day rushing the ball despite his 10 carries for 47 yards (4.7 YPC). A season-long 28-yard rush skewed his total, and the other nine carries netted just 19 yards (2.1 YPC).
Mendenhall led the team in rushing this season, carrying 217 times for 687 yards (3.2 YPC) and eight touchdowns, but he was not very elusive and did not break many tackles. According to PFF, Mendenhall had one of the worst Elusive Ratings in the league, at 26.1 (ranked 36th out of 49 running backs). He ranked 46th with 1.81 yards after contact per attempt -- compare that to Andre Ellington, who ranked second with 3.15 YAC/A (nearly Mendenhall's yards-per-carry average).
SS Yeremiah Bell (+0.7)
Strong safety Yeremiah Bell led the team in tackles against the 49ers with eight. The good thing about his game last week was that he wasn't a problem in coverage. In fact, quarterback Colin Kaepernick didn't target him in coverage once.
One minor issue he had was that he was among the defenders who were slow to react to a first-quarter reverse by receiver Quinton Patton. The play gained 26 yards and Bell made the tackle on the play, but it should have been stopped for a gain of fewer than 10 yards.
ILB Karlos Dansby (-0.5)
The MVP of the defense had a below-average game against the 49ers. Karlos Dansby had five tackles and a pass defensed, but he bit hard on play action multiple times, leaving holes in the defense.
He had issues in coverage, allowing a touchdown for the second straight game to a tight end -- the Achilles' heel of the defense all season -- and a 132.9 passer rating. Dansby will command a hefty contract this offseason, and to keep him, the front office will have to get creative with some contracts on the roster.
OLB Matt Shaughnessy (-1.0)
Outside linebacker Matt Shaughnessy was signed this offseason to help stop the run. The defense struggled last season under former coordinator Ray Horton to defend top running backs, and Shaughnessy spearheaded the turnaround.
He tied for fifth among 3-4 outside ‘backers with a +7.6 grade against the run this season but was markedly lower in all other categories -- especially in pass rushing, where his -12.4 grade ranked 40th out of 42 qualifiers. Still, he should be re-signed and used primarily as a run stopper. He won't start as long as the outside linebackers are healthy. That's the only reason he started 12 games this season.