The Arizona Cardinals got a big win on another prime time game. On Thursday Night Football, they got a 23-20 down-to-the-wire win over the Minnesota Vikings in a game that had playoff implications. It had a little of everything. It had offensive success, red zone struggles, a game-winning drive and key turnovers, including what was almost a walk-off sack and strip by Dwight Freeney.
Here's what we learned in the win.
It was a weird game
Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer described the game as "weird." It wasn't because it was a Thursday night game, but because of other circumstances. The Vikings, because of so many injuries in the secondary, changed things up. They had a cornerback and a practice squad player as their starting safeties, so things were different. Palmer said the Vikings didn't end up doing what the Cardinals practiced against because of those changes.
There were other weird factors. The Cardinals had virtually zero pressure on Teddy Bridgewater almost the entire game, but got two key sacks in the Vikings' final drive, including the strip sack by Dwight Freeney that ended the threat.
In the first half, it didn't look like either team's defense was playing well, yet the score was tied at 10 after one half.
There were plays with receivers open in the same area.
But it was a win.
Cardinals continue to be clutch
Prime time games bring out the drama. The offense has given up double digit leads in each of their prime time games since the bye. And each time they have have fourth quarter game-winning drives. When the Vikings tied the score, they confidently drove down the field and Chandler Catanzaro, who had not had any game-winning kick attempts entering this season, kicked his second in the last few weeks.
Against Baltimore, the Ravens were in position to potentially tie the game with a touchdown, but Tony Jefferson had an interception to seal it. On Thursday, he had a sack in Minnesota's final drive and Dwight Freeney stripped the ball from Teddy Bridgewater when Minnesota was in field goal range to tie the game and send it to overtime.
Cards keep Adrian Peterson in check
It didn't look like it would be the case early on, as Peterson rumbled to 39 yards on five carries and a touchdown in Minnesota's first drive, but after that the Cardinals bottled him up for 30 yards on 18 carries the rest of the way.
David Johnson shines again
He did have a drop of what would have been a touchdown in the team's opening series, but he showed once again he is a talented back. In a game featuring Adrian Peterson, it was Johnson who looked better, gaining 92 yards on 19 carries and catching five passes for 31 yards.
There was some concern about his health, as he left the game with an apparent knee injury. He was seen on the sideline on an exercise bike and ice on his knee. But no announcement was made by the team about an injury and he later returned. After the game, Arians said Johnson was tired, but "totally fine."
Carson's fine season now in the record books
With two touchdown passes, Palmer set the franchise record for touchdown passes in a season with 31. He broke the record held by Kurt Warner, which he set in 2008 when the team made it to the Super Bowl. He also passed 4000 passing yards for the season, becoming the only player in franchise history to do so twice for the team. "When the records start falling, the season speaks for itself," said Bruce Arians.
The Honey Badger does care in prime time
Tyrann Mathieu had another fine game, collecting 11 total tackles, one for a loss and a pass defended.
Larry Fitzgerald can block
We already knew it, but we got to see it again. He pancaked safety Anthony Harris en route to a Michael Floyd touchdown.
Fitz said the throw was meant for him, so he was blocking for a guy who took his ball ran with it to the end zone. He said he doesn't think blocking is fun, but he is willing to do it.
Mike Iupati should get the ball more
In what ended up being a key play, the left guard caught a pass that was batted down and turned it into a first down.
It brought back memories of Senio Kelemete and his catch in 2012, one of the lone highlights of that ugly season. Said Carson Palmer: "We might have to put in a screen for him or maybe a quick flat route down on the goal line." He said he would "lobby for him to get a pass."
The Cardinals are a playoff team
They got the win and they have punched their postseason ticket. "It's big," said Arians after the game. "We're in the playoffs. We don't know where or when, but we're in." That's what matters.
There is still room for improvement
They weren't great in every phase. Arians mentioned execution at the goal line and on third and short. Nonetheless, he was happy they were able to beat two very physical teams in five days. He's also happy as a coach because "on Tuesday I can chew their ass out and we can get better," That is always better when it comes in a win.