This was a game where the Cardinals played at the level expected of them going into the season. Let's take a look at what went right and what went wrong.
1) Pass Rush
2.5 sacks for LB Markus Golden, 1.5 sacks for LB Chandler Jones and DE Calais Campbell, 1 sack for S D.J. Swearinger, and 0.5 sacks for DE Rodney Gunter. The Cardinals absolutely dominated the Rams O-line and QB Jared Goff all game. It was actually pretty brutal to watch. Both Golden and Jones ended the season with double digit sacks, a feat not accomplished by two Cardinals players since 1984.
It's obvious that there's a lot of talent in the Cardinals D-line. Now the question going into the off-season is, who gets paid?
2) Carson Palmer
He's been criticized a lot this season. I've gotten my fair share of complaints in. But he is 37 years old, getting knocked down like crazy, and still manages to get up each time and put up decent performances (even with a bloodied lip). Palmer was 20-38 for 255 yards and three touchdowns, with one interception. While he was only sacked once, I lost track of the number of times he was brought down hard to the turf. I even recall seeing him get tackled on a handoff.
His 2015 days may be behind him, but Palmer has proven he can still win. Like I said last week, revamp the O-line, give him all the tools needed to succeed, and he's our guy for 2017.
3) Larry Fitzgerald
The timeless wonder ends the 2016 season as the official league leader in receptions, at 107. His 107th reception happened to be a 5 yard touchdown pass from Palmer in the 4th quarter too. Fitz ended the day at 43 yards off 5 receptions.
There's been talk that this may have been Fitz's last game as a Cardinal. He's a future hall of famer and one of the greatest in franchise history. I still don't believe that he's ready to leave the team just yet, but if he does, this was a great exit game.
4) Chandler Catanzaro and Matt Wile
Catanzaro was perfect on the day, nailing all three of his attempted field goals. And while the Special Teams committed a major gaffe when they let one of Wile's punts get blocked, he averaged 49 yards on each punt. I'm still in disbelief that it took Keim an entire season to find a punter who could get it out farther than 40 yards, but we at least seem to have found an answer for the position.
I'll be interested in seeing if Keim brings in any competition for either Catanzaro or Wile. This was by far the worst season of Catanzaro's young career, but he seems to have turned things around as of late. And Wile has been very decent since being signed.
5) The secondary
I've been very critical of the Cardinals secondary all season, but I have to give them credit for this game. They were outstanding against Goff. The Rams leading receiver was their RB, Todd Gurley, who was limited to just 39 yards off 4 catches. Goff didn't throw a touchdown all game, and the Cardinals recorded two interceptions: one from CB Harlan Miller, who returned it all the way to inside the Rams 35, and the other from CB Justin Bethel, who returned it for a touchdown.
CB #2 is still a need for this team moving forward, but at least depth shouldn't be an issue next season with how much playing time the backups have received.
1) Draft positioning
Had they lost, we'd be picking at #10 in April. Instead, the team got the #13 slot (last time we had #13, Michael Floyd was drafted). A top 10 pick is definitely more desirable than a mid-round pick, but 13 isn't the worst they could've gotten, so I won't complain too much.
Now Keim just needs to do his homework, and nail this pick. From what I've read, this isn't the best draft for O-line, so maybe this is the draft to shore up the secondary or find a stud linebacker.
2) Punt returning
I have hated Patrick Peterson on punt return duties ever since he broke out as a star, but the rationale has always been that he's the most capable returner on the team. Against the Rams, however, Peterson was penalized twice for fair catch violations. He also dropped a punt, barely grabbing it before being taken down.
The team really needs to invest in a full time return man. Given the injuries we've seen happen to our star players in recent years, I really don't understand how the best defender on the team is being tasked with punt returns.
1) David Johnson's injury
Seeing David Johnson on the field in pain ruined my day. Then re-watching that gruesome play ruined it further. At the beginning of the game, DJ looked poised for a big game. But early in the 1st quarter, on a run play up the middle, one of the Rams defenders landed on DJ's knee in the worst possible way. For those of you who haven't watched the clip (or won't, and I don't blame you), his knee and leg formed a 90 degree angle in a very, very unnatural way. The early testing has indicated that his ACL is intact, which if true would be a miracle. But his injury definitely put a damper on the entire game.
Of course, we'll have to wait until his MRI later today to really be able to react. If DJ can get out of this relatively unscathed, it will be proof that he is a Titan among men. I'm very sad that he couldn't get to 100 scrimmage yards to extend his streak to 16 games, but the important thing is his health. And hey, he now has a goal for next season.
Edit: He has an MCL sprain, no surgery is required. That is just incredible.
2) The season is over
This was a Superbowl or bust year, so I guess we can officially label the 2016 season a bust. Too many dumb errors and unfortunate injuries cost this team a chance to go deep. Given how injured the O-line is, maybe it's a good thing Palmer is done being abused for the year. But it's still disappointing.
Like I said last week, I think this team has one more run in it. While Fitz's return is still unannounced, Arians and Palmer are coming back and there is a still LOT of talent on both sides of the ball. The season has ended for the players, but it's just beginning for Steve Keim and the Front Office. It's up to them to revamp this team and get them ready for 2017.