NFL Nation: Michael Floyd

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson participated in a full practice on Thursday, basically assuring he’ll play Sunday in Dallas.

Peterson
Peterson
He was limited Wednesday, a day after passing the concussion protocol.

Safety Tony Jefferson was upgraded to limited after not practicing Wednesday because of a concussion suffered in Sunday’s win over Philadelphia but not diagnosed until Monday morning. During the open portion of practice, Jefferson worked on the kickoff coverage unit. He cleared the concussion protocol later Thursday.

Linebacker Kenny Demens (knee) was also upgraded from limited to full.

Running back Andre Ellington (foot) was limited, as was tight end Troy Niklas (ankle).

Defensive end Calais Campbell (knee), wide receiver Michael Floyd (knee) and safety Rashad Johnson (knee) were all full.

No rest for DRC, Giants cornerbacks

September, 9, 2014
Sep 9
3:00
PM ET
Here's an examination of one thing the New York Giants must do after their season-opening loss to the Lions in Detroit:

Rodgers-Cromartie
The Giants' plan Monday night was to shadow the Lions' top wide receiver, Calvin Johnson, with their top cornerback, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. They offered Rodgers-Cromartie safety help on some plays but asked him to single-cover the game's best wideout on others. This is why they signed Rodgers-Cromartie believing they could use him this way. The results, as you know by now, were not positive, as Johnson caught seven passes for 164 yards and two touchdowns.

Johnson is the toughest test there is, so there's no reason to think the Giants will move away from that "shadow the best WR" plan with Rodgers-Cromartie. But the next opponent on the Giants' schedule is the Arizona Cardinals, and they bring with them a talented corps of wide receivers without an obvious top candidate for the honor of "best."

Is it veteran Larry Fitzgerald, who's in the top 30 in NFL history in catches and receiving yards? Is it the emerging Michael Floyd, who had five catches for 119 yards in Arizona's opener late Monday night and was targeted seven times versus Fitzgerald's four? Could it even be electric rookie John Brown, who also saw more targets Monday (five) than Fitzgerald and caught the game-winning, 13-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter?

My guess is Floyd will be Rodgers-Cromartie's man if the Giants go the same way they did in Week 1. But the broader point here is the Giants need to be open to rethinking their coverage plan with their cornerbacks.

As my colleague Herm Edwards is fond of saying on air, "A plan that can't be changed is a bad plan." The Giants might have signed Rodgers-Cromartie under the belief he was a shutdown corner who could match up with top wide receivers, but the fact is he has not been that, consistently, throughout his career. Prince Amukamara showed some good things Monday night and remains a quality option, as does slot corner Walter Thurmond. The Giants obviously need to play better in zone coverage than they did Monday.

Cornerback is the strongest position group the Giants have, on paper, but it didn't look very strong Monday night. They might need to make some adjustments to the way they're deploying these guys if they want to get the best out of them the rest of the way.

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- For 53 minutes, the hype was just that. Hype.

The Arizona Cardinals had talked all offseason about how this year's offense was leaps and bounds ahead of last season's. At one point leading up to Monday night's 18-17 win against San Diego, coach Bruce Arians compared the difference between 2013 and 2014 to an eighth grader sitting in a first-grade classroom.

But when the Cardinals unveiled their new-model offense, the engine barely revved. Until the winning drive late in the fourth quarter, when quarterback Carson Palmer finally kicked it into gear.

“It was the first game,” wide receiver Michael Floyd said. “It’s ups and downs. We knew that there’s going to be some bad series, some good series. We want more of the good and I think we stepped up great knowing that when they came out in the second half and scored, some offenses can just lay down like that.”

After San Diego’s Philip Rivers missed a snap from former Cardinal Rich Ohrnberger, forcing the Chargers to punt on fourth-and-22 from the Cardinals 43, Arizona came to life.

The Cardinals went 91 yards in 4 minutes, 25 seconds with Palmer using six different options -- in addition to his own two legs -- to orchestrate a drive that displayed the deep cache of weapons the Cardinals have been raving about for months.

“When you get into tight situations we know we got a receiving corps that can make plays,” Ted Ginn said. “That’s all that really mattered when we get into a dog fight like that. We know that one of the guys is going to come through and make a play, and it kinda happened today on that last drive. I believe everybody had some type of ball on that drive to keep it going, no matter if it’s first, second, third or fourth. That’s just our biggest thing: to be ready anytime.”

Palmer hit Ginn once for 4 yards, Floyd twice for 25 yards, Larry Fitzgerald once for 22 and then rookie John Brown for 13 yards on a screen pass that he turned into the winning touchdown.

“That’s what [Brown] does,” Palmer said. “He’s so shifty. It’s like somebody is controlling him with a joystick.”

Andre Ellington, who was questionable for Monday’s game because of a foot injury, added to the drive with an 18-yard run on second-and-1 and Jonathan Dwyer had one run for a yard. Palmer had the most critical run of the drive -- and maybe the game -- when he scrambled for 12 yards to convert a third down and keep the drive alive.

Despite the struggles that encompassed the first 53 minutes, the drive showed off how many options the Cardinals have added since last season.

“We’re capable of that, yes,” Arians said. “We were struggling to hear some at home, which has become a problem sometimes. We had some false starts. But that last drive was something we’re capable of doing.”

One reason it worked was because it included Palmer’s four primary receiving options -- one of which wasn’t targeted until the fourth quarter. For the first time in his career, Fitzgerald wasn’t targeted for the first three quarters of a game. Fitzgerald’s first recorded target was a running play gone wrong that led to a throw-away pass in his direction. Palmer went to Fitzgerald again to start the winning drive and again two plays after he caught the 22-yarder.

Those were all the yards Fitzgerald finished with, but they put the Cardinals inside San Diego territory. Through it all, Fitzgerald didn’t complain, Palmer said. He actually told Palmer to start running behind him.

“It was just kind of one of those games where he just doesn’t get a bunch of touches but has one of the biggest plays of the game,” Palmer said.

“Larry just comes up with big plays when we need them, like he did on that one.”

Cardinals Camp Report: Day 4

July, 29, 2014
Jul 29
9:05
PM ET
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Arizona Cardinals training camp:

• He’s been one of the talks of camp, but Michael Floyd put his offseason improvement on display Tuesday. On one pass, Floyd got a step behind cornerback Patrick Peterson for a touchdown that sailed in just beyond Peterson’s reach. Floyd then hauled in another score over cornerback Justin Bethel. Earlier Tuesday, quarterback Carson Palmer praised Floyd’s size and his ability to overpower cornerbacks, which was the case Tuesday. Bethel is listed as 6-0 and Peterson 6-1, but Floyd played taller and bigger than the 6-2, 220 pounds he’s listed as.

• Arizona got a look at a few backups that were called upon in a pinch. With RB Andre Ellington (neck) and CB Antonio Cromartie (pectoral) out Tuesday, RB Stepfan Taylor and CB Jerraud Powers were inserted into their respective first-team spots. NT Christian Tupou (groin), who was already replacing Dan Williams, was replaced by a combination of players, including Anthony McCloud.

≺ Taylor filling in for Ellington was telling in terms of the battle for the second running back job. It’s between Taylor and Jonathan Dwyer, but with head coach Bruce Arians’ decision to run Taylor with the starters, it appears that he’s leading the backup running back race. The importance of winning the second spot this year is greater than past years because of Arians’ decision to use more two-back sets.

• Arians got what he wanted when it came to adding speed to the offense. On at least two occasions, Ted Ginn and John Brown had to slow down to haul in a Carson Palmer pass. That speed could be a blessing and a curse. Last season, Palmer had a knack for slightly underthrowing receivers, forcing them to come back for passes. Ginn and Brown will have to learn how to time their runs perfectly with Palmer’s passes.

• Rookie safety Deone Bucannon secured an interception that got the crowd riled up.

• Rookie kicker Chandler Catanzaro, who Arians praised Tuesday morning for being perfect through camp, missed three kicks in row during the afternoon practice. The three he missed were end-over-end kicks, different from his regular kicks. By my count, Catanzaro went 7-for-10, missing field goals from 41, 47 and 48 yards.

• After Catanzaro came off the field, special teams coordinator Amos Jones pulled his young kicker off to the side for a short talk near a water cooler. By Catanzaro’s body language, it was clear he wasn’t happy with himself.

Cardinals Camp Report: Day 1

July, 26, 2014
Jul 26
8:50
PM ET
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Arizona Cardinals training camp:
  • Arizona’s first day of training camp provided a few highlight-worthy moments for fans but it finished without any major newsworthy events. The practice appeared to be injury free but we’ll know more Sunday morning when Cardinals coach Bruce Arians addresses the media. Watching camp this year will be like watching a Pro Bowl practices with the likes of cornerbacks Antonio Cromartie and Patrick Peterson matching up against receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd. Throughout Saturday, Cromartie showed no signs of a hip flexor injury, running stride for stride with Fitzgerald and denying the eight-time Pro Bowler a few catches. Saturday still featured its share of Fitzgerald catches.
  • During the first two days of media availability, offensive players have raved about how they feel “light years” ahead of last year. It showed throughout practice. Routes were clean and crisp, and quarterback Carson Palmer was hitting receivers in stride. On a few occasions, he gave individual direction before snapping the ball. There were also minimal interruptions by Arians and other coaches, a sign that the offense was executing at a higher level.
  • When safety Tyrann Mathieu emerged from the bowels of University of Phoenix Stadium, where he was going through a rehab workout, and walked onto the field about an hour into practice, the crowd gave its bigger cheer of the afternoon. The Honey Badger acknowledged it with a wave.
  • Right tackle Bobby Massie and right guard Paul Fanaika spent the entire practice working with the first team. Sunday will tell if Arians plans on rotating in Bradley Sowell at tackle and Earl Watford at guard, giving them both reps with the starters. Both lined up with the second team Saturday.
  • It was only Day 1 but some of the rookies looked like rookies in their first training camp practice. Logan Thomas began the day working ahead of Ryan Lindley as the second-string quarterback. Throughout the course of the day his accuracy declined, as some passes hit the ground short of the receiver toward the end of practice while others sailed high. The velocity on some of Thomas' passes at times was too much for some receivers to handle.
The Arizona Cardinals' biggest key to success for the next three seasons can be summed up in one word: offense.

How the Cardinals can adapt and adjust on the offensive side of the ball will determine whether they continue to build on the foundation that coach Bruce Arians laid in 2013 or whether they regress back to the state of mediocrity.

The first step to being successful over the next three seasons is finding a long-term solution at quarterback. Current starter Carson Palmer is entering the final year of his contract because his third season voids if he remains on the roster five days after the Super Bowl. A young, steady, productive quarterback is needed to take over this team, and the question then becomes is Logan Thomas that guy? The Cardinals also need to solidify the right side of the offensive line, like they did the left side by signing tackle Jared Veldheer and drafting guard Jonathan Cooper.

Stability up front can make the offense run despite rough conditions behind it. In three years, the likes of Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd might not be wearing Cardinal red anymore. Fitzgerald is coming up on the end of his career in the next few years, and Floyd might be a free agent in the next two. The Cardinals will need to make Floyd their next No. 1 receiver and build around him to remain successful.

Running back and tight end are the two positions that are young and feature players poised to be around for the next few seasons, but, in order for the Cards to be successful through 2016, the rest of the offense needs to be stabilized and shored up.
Bruce AriansAP Photo/Ross D. FranklinArizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians will get a look at his full team Tuesday when OTAs begin.
This time last year, the buzz around the Cardinals was about a new coach with a new culture and a new scheme. This year, it’s about how do the Cardinals make the playoffs?

As the Cardinals’ offseason team activities (OTAs) begin Tuesday, there’s a lot to ponder from the past year and much to speculate on going forward. The next month will begin determining the fate for a lot of players on the current 90-man roster. As Cardinals coach Bruce Arians loved saying last year, this is when they have to put it on tape.

Here are 10 observations as the Cards begin OTAs:

  1. The top three running backs are established with Andre Ellington, Stepfan Taylor and Jonathan Dwyer sitting atop the depth chart, but after that is a major drop-off. As of now, there isn’t is a viable option for the fourth back, which was occupied by Alfonso Smith a season ago. He’s gone and so is Ryan Williams, leaving the fourth spot up for grabs. That running back, however, may not be on the field Tuesday.
  2. There’ll be a lot of eyes on the newcomers this offseason, such as quarterback Logan Thomas, cornerback Antonio Cromartie, safety Deone Bucannon and left tackle Jared Veldheer. But the most intriguing position battle of the offseason starts Tuesday with two returning offensive linemen at right tackle. Arizona hasn’t re-signed Eric Winston for a reason: It wants to see what Bradley Sowell and Bobby Massie can do. The two were college teammates at Ole Miss but neither are the clear-cut choices to assume the starting job. There have been questions about Massie’s ability to pick up the playbook for the last few seasons and Sowell was able to hold his own at left tackle last season but there’s a reason Arians didn’t keep him there. It’s yet to be seen if he’ll fare better on the right side.
  3. Losing Karlos Dansby was a major blow to the Cardinals’ inside linebackers but it could get worse. Having Daryl Washington practice with the first team may be for naught if he’s suspended for a significant amount of time by the league for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy. The Cardinals are already in tryout mode with second-year linebacker Kevin Minter but if Washington is lost for more than a game, what was a strong point of the Cards’ defense will be its liability. Veteran Larry Foote may need the reps this offseason to get ready for a larger role next year but this is also a chance for an unknown inside backer to get noticed.
  4. It’s one thing for Cromartie to say his hip is better but it’s another for him to go out and show it. He’ll have the eyes of the media – although it’s not quite like New York – on him this offseason. If Cromartie’s hip isn’t an issue, he’ll be half of one of the league’s top cornerback tandems. If his right hip flexor is still hampering him during OTAs, he’ll be wise to just sit and let a young cornerback earn some time. But next up on the depth chart is the man Cromartie replaced, Jerraud Powers, who is likely itching to win back his spot.
  5. The top three wide receivers are a shoe-in. Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and Ted Ginn will have jobs in 2014. It’s the other eight receivers on the roster who’ll be fighting for their jobs starting Tuesday. Arians clearly likes small, speedy receives -- he drafted two -- but now he has an abundance of them on the roster and will start weeding through them this week. One or two will make the cut but the rest will left fighting for the final few spots on the roster as a gunner or a special-teams machine.
  6. What a difference a year makes. Last May, the Cardinals were as confused as ever when it came to learning Arians’ offense. This year they know the wrinkles and intricacies of his complex offense. The days of Fitzgerald and Floyd lining up in the wrong places are over. The next step can be taken, which could mean a quicker start for the Cardinals than a year ago. And the result of that could then a game or two in January.
  7. Throughout the smokescreens before and during the draft, there was one truth that rose above it all: Arizona wasn’t drafting a quarterback unless he could win a spot on the roster. After the Cardinals picked Logan Thomas, Arians made it clear the first two quarterback spots are taken. That means Ryan Lindley’s third-string job is up for grabs. He’s been lending a helping hand to Thomas but when practice gets going Tuesday, he’ll need to turn it up to show Arians that he made a mistake. That may be harder than anticipated because Logan was drafted to not get cut.
  8. One of the few players with the most to lose and the most to gain during OTAs is tight end Rob Housler. He fell short of expectations last season and never grew into the player Arians had envisioned him being. It doesn’t help Housler, cut from the receiving tight end mold, that he isn’t fond of blocking. The Cardinals went out during the offseason and added two tight ends who are tailor made to fit Arians’ two-tight end scheme. Add in Jake Ballard, who joined the team around midseason last year, and Arizona has a three-tight end rotation that could see Housler as the odd man out.
  9. Tuesday will be the first day that left guard Jonathan Cooper can take the field for since he broke his leg against San Diego in the Cardinals’ third preseason game. How much Cooper can do starting this week will be an indication of how far along in his rehab he is. If he’s practicing in full, training camp will be a sure thing. If not, then training camp may be the first time Cooper will work out at full capacity.
  10. Another offensive lineman the Cardinals are anxious to see on the field is guard Earl Watford. The second-year player feels he has a better grasp of the playbook and the offense in his second offseason. He’ll be given a chance to win the starting job over last year’s starting guard Paul Fanaika. If he does, the job may be Watford’s for the foreseeable future.
Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians addressed the media Friday morning at the NFL combine in Indianapolis, and the assembled reporters didn’t waste any time asking him about his veteran quarterback.

Palmer
He was asked if Carson Palmer, 34, was a “stop-gap?”

“There’s no doubt he’s got plenty of juice left in the tank,” Arians said. “He’s in great condition and he’s always in great condition. So I would think he can play up to 36, 37 easily."
  • Arians said an 11-5 record might not have helped get Arizona into the playoffs but if they snuck in, the rest of the NFC would’ve had to watch out.“If we were in the playoffs we would’ve did some damage,” Arians said. “We just didn’t win enough games.”
  • Arians felt the Cardinals were “real close” during the final eight games because everything was clicking.“We were running the football much better, and it helped our offensive line so much,” Arians said. “Our receivers and quarterback got on the same page. Third-down efficiency improved, red zone started to improve. So we were playing the way we wanted to play. The second half of the season, I was extremely pleased the way we were playing offensively.”
  • Arians made it clear what kind of tight end he’ll be looking for the free agency or the draft: One who can block first then catch.“I’m old school,” Arians said. “He’s got to block first and catch passes. That’s why I loved Heath Miller. I still think he’s the best tight end in the National Football League. Not because he catches 90 passes, but because he blocks big defensive ends and he catches about 60, 70 passes. The guys that line up as wide receivers might get tagged as wide receivers. But tight ends, for me, block for me first and catch second. That’s what receivers get paid for.”
  • Among Arizona receiver Michael Floyd's biggest strides in his second year, Arians said, was his ability to play through injury.“I think Michael’s starting to reach his potential,” Arians said. “He had what I considered a break-out year, over a 1,000 yards. He still needs to be a little more consistent each week. He played through injuries for the first time, which is a huge step for a young player. A lot of times they’ll just sit themselves down. He wanted to win. He wanted to help us win, and I thought he made great strides. But this year can he do it again? That’ll be the question for him.”
Cardinals wide receiver Andre Roberts seems to accept the fact that there aren't enough passes in Arizona's playbook to be shared with Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd.

In an interview on SiriusXM NFL Radio on Monday, Roberts said the Cardinals haven't offered him a new contract for 2014 or beyond.

“I don't know if there's necessarily enough balls to go around out here,” Roberts said. “So, I don't know how that's going to work out but they haven't offered me anything yet. I expect them to give me an offer here before free agency or right at free agency. So we'll see.”

Arizona hasn't begun negotiating with many of its free agents, so Roberts isn't alone. But the Cardinals may consider his $1.3 million salary in 2013, the last season of his four-year rookie contract, too much for a receiver who only caught 2.7 passes per game.

Clearly frustrated, Roberts has been good at keeping his cool and his emotions under wraps. He didn't go off during the season or widely express his unhappiness with being the third receiver in coach Bruce Arians' two-receiver offense.

And Roberts hopes staying poised throughout the season will help him if he hits the open market.

“I think it does say good bit about me as a person,” Roberts said. “Complaining about it wasn't going to help me at all. Obviously, I was frustrated being a competitor and being a receiver wanting the ball every play, wanting to be in there every play. You can't really complain about it. Michael (Floyd)'s a really good receiver and obviously everybody knows who Larry Fitzgerald is. I just have to play my role.

“Going into this year I knew some of the situations I was going to have to deal with.”

That meant moving from the Cardinals' second receiver to their third, and basically out of the offense. He started the season hot, catching eight passes for 97 yards against St. Louis and then his numbers quickly dropped, including a four-game stretch from Weeks 3-6 where he had 6 yards, 6 yards, 0 yards and 5 yards, respectively.

Overall, Roberts caught 43 passes for 471 yards and two touchdowns in 2013, his lowest totals since his rookie season in 2010.

He played 576 snaps last season, according to ESPN Stats & Information, significantly less than Fitzgerald's 954 and Floyd's 891. Roberts' season high was 51 in Week 1 and his low was 20 in Week 16 at Seattle.

Last season wasn't the ideal situation for Roberts heading into free agency, although he did benefit from having a consistent quarterback in Carson Palmer for the first time in his career.

At 26, Roberts is looking for a four or five-year deal, he said. But he won't be against taking a one-year deal to prove his worth.

“That's definitely crossed my mind taking that one-year deal and trying to improve my stats and show the league what I'm able to do,” Roberts said. “I'd love to be in a great opportunity with a quarterback in a situation where I can play that No. 2 role and boost my stats a little bit and show what I can do.

“I'm pretty excited,” he added. “I have a little bit of a good nervousness not knowing exactly where I'm going to be. I'm pretty excited about the whole free-agency process. I'm looking forward to seeing what's coming for the rest of my career.”
TEMPE, Ariz. -- With the 2013 season not even in the books for three weeks, it was time to decide who was the best of the best for the Arizona Cardinals this past year. My inaugural postseason awards were both standard and outside the box.

So, without further ado, I present my 2013 awards:

Offensive MVP: Michael Floyd, wide receiver. It may not be the popular choice, but Floyd was the most valuable player to the Cardinals offense. His breakout year eased the pressure on Larry Fitzgerald and caused teams to think twice about double or triple teaming Fitzgerald -- even though most did. And what did Floyd do? Just catch 65 passes for 1,041 yards and five touchdowns, setting career highs in just his second season. But that wasn't his most important contribution to the Arizona offense. For a team that was struggling to secure first downs, especially when the down marker ticked to third, Floyd was a beacon of first-down hope. Between weeks 10 and 16, he had 25 straight receptions that went for first downs. And of his final 34 catches, 30 moved the chains. There's not a bigger impact a player could have, with the exception of catching touchdowns, than giving his team a fresh set of downs. Add on the game-winning touchdown against Seattle and Floyd's contributions to the offense were worthy of him being the offensive MVP.

[+] EnlargeDansby
AP Photo/John CordesKarlos Dansby was all over the field this season -- setting career highs in tackles and interceptions while notching 6.5 sacks.
Defensive MVP: Karlos Dansby, linebacker. In his return to the Cardinals, Dansby proved age is just a number. He had a career season despite missing out on the Pro Bowl yet again. As the on-field conductor of the Cardinals' sixth-ranked defense, Dansby didn't just put his teammates in the right positions to make plays, he went out and made them himself, impacting games from all three levels of the defense. His career-high 114 solo tackles and four interceptions to accompany his 6.5 sacks proved his versatility. To top off a career year, he returned two interceptions for touchdowns. Dansby came into training camp slimmer than he's been and it was evident in his ability to get in the backfield and chase defenders from sideline-to-sideline. And when he dropped back in coverage, he got his hands on the ball. His overall impact from front to back and side to side made him worthy of being the defensive MVP.

Special teams MVP: Justin Bethel, gunner. This was almost a no-brainer but I did consider punter Dave Zastudil. But how many gunners have special teams game plans built for them? He was named to the Pro Bowl after finishing with 21 special teams tackles, four downed punts inside the opponents' 10 and two blocked field goals. He also recovered a muffed kickoff. Bethel's ability to get past double teams constantly made him a threat to kick returners. Opponents would normally double and often triple team Bethel, forcing him out-of-bounds before he had a chance to break free. When he had a step on his defenders, it was tough for them to catch Bethel, who'd often bring down kick returners within a few yards of them fielding the punt which, in turn, would give the Cardinals great field position.

Assistant coach of the year: Brentson Buckner, defensive line coach. Buckner had a tough task. For as well as the defensive line did in pass rush situations in 2012, it was equally as bad against the run finishing 28th. He challenged the defensive line in an early-season meeting and it responded by becoming the No. 1 run defense in the league. Buckner's experience as an NFL player and his honesty endeared him to his charges, who laid it on the line for Buckner.

Rookie of the year: Tyrann Mathieu, safety. He made an instant impact, forcing a fumble in his first game, and didn't slow down until a knee injury forced ended his season after Week 13. Mathieu's athleticism and nose for the ball earned him playing time and his versatility kept him on the field. Other Cardinals' rookies contributed but none had as large of an impact as quickly as Mathieu.

Best offseason move: Trading for Carson Palmer. Without Palmer, all the interceptions included, where would the offense have been? In the hands of backup quarterback Drew Stanton. Capable, I'm sure, but Stanton hasn't thrown a pass in an NFL game since 2010. Palmer's addition gave the Cardinals a reliable thrower who made passes that hadn't been completed in Arizona since the Kurt Warner days.

Best in-season move: Trading Levi Brown. Signing tight end Jake Ballard, receiver Brittan Golden or linebacker Marcus Benard were also considered. But trading Brown set the Cardinals up for future success. He was moved after Week 4 and was instantly replaced by second-year tackle Bradley Sowell, a more athletic and nimble tackle, who found his footing along with the rest of the line midway through the season. Sowell brought athleticism and the ability to slow down an outside pass rush.

Veteran of the year (8-plus years): John Abraham, linebacker. Initially signed to be a pass-rush specialist, Abraham was thrown into the starting rotation after Week 3 and proved to everyone, including himself, that at 35 he still had what it takes to be an every-down player. All he did was have 11.5 sacks, to move onto the top 10 in history and earn his fourth Pro Bowl nod.

Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final Power Ranking: 9
Preseason Power Ranking: 26

Biggest surprise: No one expected Arizona to struggle like it did throughout the first half of the season because an offensive mastermind, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, was in charge. Likewise, nobody expected the Cardinals to go on a tear through the final nine, going 7-2 to finish 10-6. A 10-win season for the Cardinals isn't to be ignored. They're tough to come by, but Arians was able to accomplish it in his first season, which nobody expected. He proved himself as a head coach at 61 and showed how great his offense is when a team can learn and execute it.

Biggest disappointment: Arians was dead set on riding running back Rashard Mendenhall this season with rookie Andre Ellington as his backup. And while Mendenhall was serviceable, it wasn't a successful move. Mendenhall finished with 687 yards on 217 carries, an average of 3.2 yards per carry -- just 35 more than Ellington on 99 more carries. Partially to blame for Mendenhall underachieving was a turf-toe injury that limited him for most of the season, but when he was healthy, he showed his true speed in only two games. Other than that, he struggled to break through the line as often as the Cardinals needed him to. He's not the future for Arizona at running back. That belongs to Ellington.

Biggest need: Everyone thinks the most obvious need is a left tackle, but with how the offensive line played during the last eight games, it may be the least of the Cardinals' worries. Arizona needs a big, fast safety who can defend tight ends. The 29 tight ends who faced the Cardinals this season accounted for 1,247 yards and 17 touchdowns on 98 receptions. The yards accounted for 30.7 percent of the total by opposing receivers and the 98 receptions were 26.7 percent of the catches made by opponents. But the most telling stat, and the difference between wins and losses, are the 17 touchdowns by opposing tight ends, which are 58.6 percent of the 29 total allowed by the Cardinals' secondary.

Team MVP: There were a handful of Cardinals who had good seasons on both sides of the ball, but there was one who really kept the pulse of the team alive. Veteran linebacker Karlos Dansby was shunned by Miami and took a huge pay cut to come to Arizona, and he proved to everyone in the league that, at age 32, he still had it. He was second in the NFL with 114 solo tackles, 6.5 sacks -- his most since his eight in 2006 -- and a career-high four interceptions. But his ability to impact a top-six defense near the line of scrimmage, sideline-to-sideline and then dropping back in coverage made him the most important player on the team.

Cardinals' comeback all for pride

December, 29, 2013
12/29/13
11:30
PM ET
Andre RobertsAP Photo/Ross D. FranklinAndre Roberts' 34-yard touchdown tied the score at 17 after the Cardinals trailed 17-0.

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- From the moment Arizona beat Seattle until kickoff Sunday, the Cardinals' season finale was built up to be a what-if kind of game.

What if the Cardinals beat the San Francisco 49ers?

What if, by some long shot, Tampa Bay went into New Orleans and pulled off an upset?

What if the miracle actually happened?

But none of that mattered by time the first quarter expired on Sunday. As they have for most of the season, the Cardinals came out slow and before they blinked, the 49ers built a 17-0 point lead. If anyone expected anything different from the Cardinals after last weekend’s emotional win in Seattle, they haven’t watched this team closely.

For as good as the defense has played all season and for as many times as they had saved games -- like it nearly did in Arizona’s 23-20 loss to the Niners -- Sunday wasn’t going to be any different. It didn’t matter if this was Arizona’s biggest game since Kurt Warner last trotted onto the field at University of Phoenix Stadium in 2009. It didn't matter what was at stake. Arizona looked more like the team that struggled early in games than it did the one that finished the season 7-2.

“When we started slow we focused on what we had [to do],” center Lyle Sendlein said. “We knew coming in we didn’t want to be saying, ‘What if Tampa would’ve won and we didn’t?’ That’s the taste we didn’t want in our mouths. That’s why our drive was strong today.

“We didn’t want that feeling in case it did happen.”

In a stroke of genius, the NFL flexed the New Orleans-Tampa Bay game to begin at the same time as Arizona-San Francisco. That way, neither the Cardinals nor the Niners would be playing with their postseason fate already decided.

It didn’t matter, however. New Orleans smoked Tampa Bay 42-17 and ended Arizona’s season by halftime.

None of the Cardinals said they snuck a look at the Saints-Bucs score. They were only concerned about trying to get themselves back in the game. With the playoffs out of the question, pride was on the line. And around the NFC West, pride and bragging rights are a close second.

“It didn’t matter,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. “This is the only game that mattered at the time.”

What Arizona could’ve done, however, was put themselves in the right position in case the right situation unfolded. But after quarterback Carson Palmer nearly threw an interception on Arizona’s opening drive, the defense was forced to pick up the slack again. It stopped San Francisco on three straight plays from the Cardinals' 8, forcing the Niners to kick a field goal.

On the Cards next drive, Palmer threw his 22nd interception of the season, when he tried to force a pass to Michael Floyd, who was surrounded by about five Niners. San Francisco didn’t waste any time, scoring in six plays to take a 10-0 lead. Arizona needed points on the next drive, but Jay Feely's 37-yard field goal attempt went wide right. The Niners went up 17-0 after a 63-yard pass from Colin Kaepernick to Anquan Boldin set up a 3-yard touchdown pass to Vernon Davis.

“They came out with a game plan, a lot of reverses, a lot of things early in the game to try to keep us off guard from stopping the run because they knew we would be very aggressive, and we were,” Arians said. “Early turnover, missed field goals, we didn’t play very well in the first half, but we kind of shot ourselves in the foot this ball game again.

“But, the no scoring opportunities hurt and [in] tight, tight games, always will.”

But why should Sunday have been any different from the rest of the season?

While the offense was getting its motor running, the Cardinals’ defense went to work. On the Niners’ next eight drives, Arizona forced them to punt six times. San Francisco kicker Phil Dawson missed a field goal after Arizona held from its 3 and then the 6 on three straight plays. Then in the fourth quarter the Cardinals held on a fourth-and-1.

Before San Francisco knew it, Arizona had rattled off 17 straight points to tie the game, the last of which came on a 34-yard touchdown pass from Palmer to Andre Roberts along the left sideline of the end zone. Sound familiar? It looked eerily similar to the touchdown pass Palmer threw to Michael Floyd in Seattle.

By time Dawson gave San Francisco a 20-17 lead with 1:45 left in the game, Arizona knew the playoffs were nothing but a pipe dream. At that point it was all about pride.

While he had missed two field goals earlier in the game, Feely atoned by nailing a 43-yarder with 34 seconds left to tie the game at 23.

But Arizona’s luck this season ran out when the officials ruled LaMichael James was down before the ball popped loose during the ensuing return. Dawson would eventually hit a 40-yard field goal as time expired to give San Francisco the win.

What started as a blowout finished as a nail-biter.

Arizona found itself where it wanted to. In a position to take care of its own business by beating a division rival. But as luck and a field goal would have it, neither happened.

And, as fate -- and the Saints -- had it, neither would’ve mattered.

Rapid Reaction: Arizona Cardinals

December, 29, 2013
12/29/13
7:43
PM ET
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- A few thoughts on the Arizona Cardinals' 23-20 loss to San Francisco 49ers.

What it means: Not much changed throughout the season. Arizona showed Sunday it was still the team that liked to get down early, let its defense all but shut down the opposing offense and then, if it felt like it, the offense would come up with a big play to win. Arizona never gave up even as New Orleans was running over Tampa Bay, eliminating the Cardinals from the playoffs. There was more than that on the line in Glendale, especially against an NFC West foe that Arizona thought it should’ve beaten back in Week 6. The Cardinals also wanted to finish 11-5 to prove they were a playoff-caliber team.

Stock watch: Michael Floyd continued his tear despite shoulder and ankle injuries. He finished with 91 yards, topping 1,000 this season, on a variety of short passes as well as the deep ball he’s become known for around Arizona. Carson Palmer tried to go to Floyd early but San Francisco was ready for him. Floyd should’ve come down with a few of those but his shoulder clearly limited him. When Arizona needed a spark, however, the Cardinals went to Floyd down the middle for a 44-yard pass.

No gain for RBs: All week, the Cardinals’ defensive line qualified any comment about being the No. 1-ranked rush defense by saying they hoped it’d continue against the Niners. Arizona held San Francisco’s running backs -- Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter and Anthony Dixon -- to 22 yards. A lack of a running game forced San Francisco to pass, which, in turn, allowed the Cardinals to go after Colin Kaepernick, who struggled on passes when he was chased. Every one of San Francisco's drives during the second and third quarters ended with either a punt, turnover on downs, or a missed field goal.

Slow start: It plagued Arizona throughout the first half of the season, but anyone who watched this team -- and the team itself -- thought the first-half issues were, for the most part, solved. And they had been, until Sunday. The Cardinals allowed the Niners to score on their first three drives and went down 17-0 by the time the second quarter started. From there, Arizona simply couldn’t recover.

What's next: Arizona finishes with a 10-6 record.

W2W4: Cardinals vs. 49ers

December, 29, 2013
12/29/13
8:00
AM ET
TEMPE, Ariz. – Sunday’s game against San Francisco may not just result in a playoff berth.

It could end with a host of milestones being reached:
  • With a victory, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians would match Norm Barry with 11 wins, the most in team history for a coach in their first season.
  • A win would also set the best turnaround in franchise history (six games).
  • With a TD catch, Larry Fitzgerald would set the record for most TD receptions against the Niners with 13.
  • Quarterback Carson Palmer needs 133 yards to reach 4,000 in a season for the fourth time.
  • Running back Andre Ellington needs 19 yards to hit 1,000 all-purpose yards, the first time since 2003 a rookie could reach that mark and the fifth time ever.
  • Wide receiver Michael Floyd needs 50 yards to reach 1,000 receiving yards.
  • Returner Javier Arenas needs 54 yards to reach 500 return yards.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Cornerback Greg Toler's groin injury was originally expected to keep him out the Indianapolis Colts' lineup 2-4 weeks.

Four weeks came and went. So did Week 5. The same can be said for Weeks 6 and 7.

It’s gotten to the point now where you wonder if he’ll be back to help the defense this season.

“I want to be back out there helping my teammates,” Toler said. “Some dudes can play with their bodies being off a little. I can’t. The training staff told me they want me to be 100 percent before I go back out there.”

[+] EnlargeMike Wallace and Greg Toler
AP Photo/Michael ConroyThe groin injury suffered by cornerback Greg Toler (right), has weakened the Colts' secondary.
Where is Toler at health-wise?

“I’d say I’m about 90-95 percent,” he said. “I need a great full week of practice of not having to be limited at all. They want to know that if a guy gets by me, I can turn it on and catch him. I respect that. This is one of those situations where I have to be completely healed first.”

The time it has taken Toler to try to overcome his groin injury, which happened in the third quarter of the Oct. 20 game against Denver, is somewhat alarming.

He said there is a backstory behind it. Toler, who also had injury problems during his four seasons with Arizona, said he made the mistake of trying to play through injuries when he was younger.

He doesn’t want to make the same mistake again.

Toler suffered a setback with his groin while working out about three weeks ago. He practiced on a limited basis last week but knew the odds of playing against the Cincinnati Bengals were slim, because he faced the risk of aggravating his groin with the game was played outdoors in the cold.

“I’m ready and confident that I’ll be back out there with the guys,” Toler said. “They want me to be at my best. I don’t want to hurt the team. The cold doesn’t play in your favor, because it doesn’t allow your body warm up the way you want to."

Toler's absensce isn't the only reason behind the recent demise, but the secondary has struggled since he was injured. Receivers like Houston’s Andre Johnson (229 yards), St. Louis' Tavon Austin (138 yards) and Arizona’s Michael Floyd (104 yards) have had big games against the Colts.

“When you’ve got a player of his caliber that can play, that’s why we signed him, and for him not to be in the lineup does hurt a little bit, don’t get me wrong,” Colts defensive coordinator Greg Manusky recently said. “If something happens to other players that are Pro Bowl type players, you’re going to have a letdown. But we pick it up and next guy in line, we go out there and we roll.”

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Roster Advisor

NFL SCOREBOARD

Thursday, 12/18
Saturday, 12/20
Sunday, 12/21
Monday, 12/22
WEEKLY LEADERS