Bickley: Cardinals' high-flying road show rolls on

Dan Bickley
azcentral sports
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Cardinals receiver John Brown (left) is hugged by teammate Larry Fitzgerald after scoring a touchdown during the third quarter against the Philadelphia Eagles in an NFL game at Lincoln Financial Field on December 20, 2015, in Philadelphia.

PHILADELPHIA – They came for the commemorative hats and T-shirts.  And once they were passed around the winning locker room, the Cardinals promptly discounted their importance.

Their new accessories are just souvenirs. They are not trophies. Big difference.

“Clinching the (NFC) West really isn’t our goal,” Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians said.  “There’s not a lot of whooping and hollering in the locker room right now because it’s not the final one.  It’s just the beginning.”

Nevertheless, after beating the Eagles 40-17 at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday, the Cardinals return home immersed in accomplishment.

BOX SCORE: Cardinals 40, Eagles 17

They have won eight consecutive games. They are the first 12-win team in franchise history. They have two remaining homes games to secure their last regular-season objective:  one of the top two seeds in the NFC playoffs.

The numbers are beginning to sparkle. The Cardinals are now 5-0 in nationally televised games, showing no signs of stage fright that once afflicted this franchise.  They also finished the regular-season with a 7-1 record on the road, a true barometer of a championship-caliber team that can win in any venue, hostile or otherwise.

Cardinals capture NFC West title with win over Eagles

So what does it mean?

“It guarantees us a home game in the playoffs,” Cardinals defensive lineman Calais Campbell said. “It sets us up for a first-round bye.  We have big goals, and this sets us up real good.  But we expected this to happen.  We worked hard for this.  We prepared for this, and it feels good when it happens.  But we still have a long way to go.”

The clinching effort came with some frightening moments.  Tyrann Mathieu injured his knee late in the fourth quarter.  Carson Palmer dislocated his finger, only to pop it back in and continue playing.  It once again proves how fragile and fleeting success can be in the NFL.

Cardinals rewind: What we learned in win vs. Eagles

The victory also marked a symbolic passing of the torch.

It is no small feat to take the division crown from the Seahawks, a team that has been to the Super Bowl in each of the last two seasons.  It’s also a measure of validation for the 2014 Cardinals team that was caught from behind by Seattle, which overcame a three-game deficit with six games remaining

Arizona Cardinals' John Brown endures horrid 1st half vs. Eagles

Valley fans understand that last year’s team was felled by injuries.  But if the Cardinals were caught from behind a second time, the psychological trauma would’ve been profound.

“This is the first thing we wanted to accomplish, so it’s nice to get that off the checklist,” Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. “We have to win another game to have a first-round bye, which is something that hasn’t happened here ever.

“But we’re a tough team. We deal with adversity. We’ve come back to win games. We’ve blown teams out.  We’ve won in a lot of different ways, and I think that bodes well for us going forward.”

The Cardinals received no breaks entering the game.  Green Bay prevailed in Oakland, preventing Arizona from securing the No.  2 seed on Sunday.  That means next week’s game against the Packers will matter, and so will the thousands of fans they bring to University of Phoenix Stadium.

Carolina avoided a colossal meltdown against the Giants to remain unbeaten and retain a headlock on the No. 1 seed.  Even worse, Cam Newton all but clinched the MVP trophy with a historic performance, all but eliminating Palmer’s chances.

Finally, the Seahawks posted their fifth consecutive victory with at least 400 yards of total offense, proving that nothing is going to come easy in the NFC.

Given the landscape, the Cardinals took the field with reassuring urgency.  John Brown dropped a sure touchdown pass on the first play of the game, a harbinger of things to come.  But his teammates more than compensated.

The defense forced a series of turnovers in the second half.  Rookie David Johnson had a banner evening, helping the Cardinals post 230 rushing yards.  He represents another twist of good fortune for the franchise.

When Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington went down with injuries, some wondered if the Cardinals would lose their balance on offense, and thus, there status as Super Bowl contenders.  To the contrary, it might’ve been a blessing in disguise.

“It definitely feels amazing,” said Johnson, who rushed for 187 yards and three touchdowns.  “(I) just can’t be complacent.”

Cardinals recap, analysis of victory over Eagles

Same goes for the Cardinals, a team that can gain express-lane access to the Super Bowl with a victory against the Packers in Week 16.

For the record, the division-clinching hats are nice.   So are the T-shirts that read, “The West is on Lock.”  And with any luck, the celebrations are just getting started.

Reach Bickley at or 602-444-8253. Follow him at  Listen to “Bickley and Marotta,” weekdays from 12-2 p.m. on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.

Photos from the Cardinals-Eagles game:

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