Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NFL Nation [Print without images]

Wednesday, January 4, 2012
Cardinals regular-season wrap-up

By Mike Sando

NFC Wrap-ups: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final Power Ranking: 18
Preseason Power Ranking: 21

Patrick Peterson
Rookie Patrick Peterson's special teams play earned him a spot on the Pro Bowl roster.
Biggest surprise: The Cardinals recovered from a 1-6 start to finish 8-8 despite never getting consistently improved play from their quarterbacks. Arizona appeared dead after blowing a 24-6 halftime lead at Baltimore in the seventh game of the season. The Cardinals were trailing the 1-6 St. Louis Rams at home the next week after quarterback John Skelton took two safeties in the third quarter, absurdly producing the first four-point quarter in league history. This was how the Ken Whisenhunt era was going to unravel? No. Patrick Peterson's 99-yard punt return in overtime turned around the season. The Cardinals won at Philadelphia the next week and later put together a four-game winning streak -- the team's longest since 1999. Beating Seattle in Week 17 capped the season appropriately.

Biggest disappointment: Arizona's big play for quarterback Kevin Kolb failed to produce the desired results. Kolb missed seven-plus games to injury and struggled when he was in the lineup. Those blaming the Cardinals' offensive line for protection issues should not overlook Kolb's role in the negative plays. Kolb was nearly 30 percent more likely than Skelton to take sacks. He took more in nine starts (30) than Kurt Warner ever took during a full season with the team. Warner was not playing behind Pro Bowlers, either. Kolb was frequently quick to bail on plays, often with negative results. He completed 13 of 37 passes (35.1 percent) for 167 yards from outside the pocket, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Missing the final three games to a concussion amplified durability questions.

Biggest need: Offensive tackle has to be up there. Brandon Keith broke down physically at right tackle, ending the season on injured reserve. Levi Brown might have played his final game for the team at left tackle. His contract becomes untenable in 2012. The Cardinals could bring him back at a reduced rate. Upgrading the position might be a better option. Two teams, Arizona and Tennessee, have not selected an offensive lineman in the first three rounds of the last four drafts. The Cardinals will need better pass protection even if Kolb improves his pocket awareness.

Team MVP: Larry Fitzgerald. The perennial Pro Bowl choice dropped only one pass despite finishing the season with 150 targets, fourth-most in the league. The three players with more targets than Fitzgerald -- Roddy White, Wes Welker and Calvin Johnson -- combined for 22 drops (14 by White). Fitzgerald upped his yards per reception from 12.6 in 2010 to 17.6 this season. His play bordered on heroic against Seattle in Week 17. Fitzgerald played through a bruised lung, spitting up blood, and still dominated with the game on the line. His grace and sportsmanship also stood out. While other players jawed back and forth, occasionally scuffling, Fitzgerald helped up the men blanketing him in coverage. He joined Jerry Rice, Marvin Harrison and Randy Moss as the only players with 1,400 yards in four seasons.

What could have been: Peterson's four touchdowns on punt returns and improved play at cornerback gave the Cardinals outstanding return on their first-round draft investment. Imagine if second-round choice Ryan Williams hadn't suffered a season-ending knee injury during preseason. Williams showed big-play ability during camp. Without him, the running game faltered some as starter Beanie Wells fought through a knee injury. Wells topped 1,000 yards, but he averaged 3.1 yards per attempt with a long run of nine yards over Arizona's final four games.