The Arizona Cardinals defense stepped up and did something not seen in over 20 years, they shutout the opposing offense. Arizona welcomed the New York Giants into University of Phoenix Stadium and left their visitors with lumps of coal. The offense did just enough to put points on the scoreboard and the Giants did nothing. It was a day filled with delightful defensive play by the Cardinals, the gift of Larry Fitzgerald, and a much-needed victory for the fans in attendance and at home.
The game began as many would have expected, both offenses attempted to move the football but seemed afraid of crossing the 50 yard line. It took about half the quarter before the Cardinals crossed midfield and netted a Phil Dawson field goal from 21 yards out. That was followed by an interception by safety Antoine Bethea. The veteran safety made a play on a deep pass by Giants quarterback Eli Manning. The Cardinals failed to do anything with the turnover and the teams traded punts to end the first quarter.
New York looked to open their scoring leger with a 33 yard attempt. The kick was missed and the teams proceeded to trade punts once again. The Cardinals took control of the game near the end of the half. Taking over inside their own 35 yard line, the Cardinals moved downfield with pace as Drew Stanton completed short passes to different receivers. With just a minute left, Stanton found Fitzgerald for a 13 yard touchdown pass. It put the ageless receiver at 100 receptions and 1,000 yards receiving for the season. It was the first touchdown for the Cardinals in over 11 quarters. Another Bethea interception ended the first half with the Cardinals leading 10-0.
Stanton and the Cardinals received the second half kickoff and methodically marched down the field. The veteran quarterback leaned on running back Kerwynn Williams on the drive. Williams found space on a 21 yard run to the right side of the defense which brought the football to the New York 28 yard line. Then on third down Stanton found John Brown for a 15 yard completion. Brown beat single coverage on the play. After Dawson missed the extra point, the teams traded punts and the Giants turned the ball over on downs. The Cardinals then took over and looked poised for another score until Stanton was intercepted near the goal line by Giants cornerback Ross Cockrell.
The defense cemented their performance upon the Giants taking over after the interception. On third down, Deone Bucannon came on a blitz to Manning’s left causing a fumble and scramble. The ball was picked up by defensive end Robert Nkemdiche. The second year-end took the football 21 yards for a defensive touchdown. The score put the lead at 23-0 and the defense continued to suffocate Manning until the final whistle.
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Most Valuable Player – Larry Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald became the oldest player to record a 100 catch with 1,000 yards receiving season. The former University of Pittsburgh standout has been silent on if he will return to football in 2018. Fitzgerald signed an extension with the team in November but the contract was to ensure he’d remain a Cardinals player if he chose to return next season. If it was the last game in front of the home fans, Fitzgerald put in another superb effort. Fitzgerald caught nine passes for 119 yards and a touchdown. He also threw the football on an end-around play, completing a 21 yard pass to Brown. Whether a fan of the Cardinals or not, Fitzgerald is one of the greatest to ever play, and seeing him again next season would be the best gift of all.
Least Valuable Player – What Could Have Been
This is a bit different as Sunday showcased what the blueprint should have been for the Cardinals after Carson Palmer’s injury. Play suffocating defense where the pass rush gets constant pressure, run the ball effectively to then use play action passing down the field to Fitzgerald and Brown. It was a game plan that worked to perfection on Sunday but was absent most of the season. This game provided Cardinals fans the reminder of what could have been a playoff contender in 2017.
With just over a minute remaining in the first half and the Cardinals looking to push their lead further, Stanton found Fitzgerald on an inside slant route for the 13 yard touchdown. It was the first touchdown in more than two games of action for the Cardinals. The score seemed to further inspire the defense which gave Manning fits with pressure and tight coverage on the Giants’ receivers. Against the Arizona defense on Sunday, a 10 point lead more than enough.
What it Means
In terms of a 2017 season just about over, the victory does nothing for the Cardinals. Arizona had already been knocked out of playoff contention the previous week and were playing for pride. The team showed grit and resilience in focusing on the game plan and pushing around the Giants. Perhaps the game was more about showing the fan base of what is still on this team and it can be next season with the return of players like David Johnson and Markus Golden. For a fan base starving for a championship, hope is all anyone can ask for.
What Happens Next
With the win the Cardinals enter the final week of the regular season with a chance at a .500 record. Arizona will travel to Seattle to face the rival Seahawks. Seattle enters the final game with their playoff hopes hanging on by the tips of their fingers. With a win, Arizona can play the spoiler against their rivals up north, and wish Seattle a not so happy new year.