Fans at University of Phoenix Stadium mark the Cardinals' final 8-8 record during Sunday's 48-19 season-ending win over St. Louis.
The points came quickly Sunday, the smiles soon after.
That's what the Cardinals' 48-19 season-ending thrashing of a division rival – in this case, the St. Louis Rams – can do.
"This was that win," said receiver Anquan Boldin, "we have been looking for all year."
Unfortunately, the year has ended.
But domination of the reeling Rams did get the Cardinals (8-8) to .500 for only the third time in 20 seasons since moving to Arizona and the first time since 1998. The Cards hope – and believe – it can be a springboard into 2008.
Edgerrin James had his third 100-yard rushing day of the season (102 yards on 24 carries) and gained more yards (1,222) on the ground than any runner since the franchise moved to Arizona.
Rolle and linebacker Gerald Hayes each returned interceptions for touchdowns, giving the defense a franchise-record six this season. And then there was the perfect finish for Pro Bowl wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who had season-highs in catches (11) and yards (171).
"I'm just doing my job," said Fitzgerald, who led the NFC in receptions (100) and receiving yards (1,409). "This is what they pay me to do."
Fitzgerald had two touchdowns. Boldin ran in a 20-yard TD catch. Quarterback Kurt Warner (300 yards) had three touchdown passes for a fourth straight game.
Coach Ken Whisenhunt came into the postgame press conference and lamented his team's penalties, but casting a critical eye on this game seemed a stretch.
"We learned a lot about ourselves (this season)," Whisenhunt said. "I feel we are a better team than our record indicates. We were playing good football at the end of the year, which is what you want to do."
It was 24-6 at the half, and even when Warner forced a throw into coverage for an interception early in the second half – allowing the Rams to score a quick touchdown and pull within 11 – the Cardinals answered with a 12-play, 80-play touchdown drive capped with Fitzgerald's second scoring catch.
The Cards also answered the Rams' own touchdown interception return with a touchdown drive ending in Boldin's score.
"To be a good football team you have to be able to bounce back when things don't go well in your direction," Warner said. "Every game is not going to be perfect. You're going to make mistakes; the only way to be a good football team is when you make mistakes you overcome them."
The Rams (3-13) aren't exactly headed for the playoffs, but after getting a tussle from the equally struggling Falcons the week before, the Cardinals had reason to be satisfied.
"I didn't envision 48 points a game (this season)," Whisenhunt said. "But I did envision us being able to control the ball. What I think we did today was sustain drives and score points."
The Cards go into the offseason with many questions, thanks to contract situations and other issues. Asked about his starting quarterback for next season, Whisenhunt did say he didn't believe in a starter losing his job to injury, specifically noting Matt Leinart. That would seem to indicate Warner, despite a statistically stellar season, will likely be the backup in 2008.
The Cards also have to find ways to re-sign linebackers Karlos Dansby and Calvin Pace, and work on reducing Fitzgerald's huge (about $17 million) salary for next season.
But Sunday was about finishing 2007.
Having a .500 record "is still average," Boldin said. But given the circumstances of the season, added defensive end Antonio Smith, "it's a hell of a feat."
Contact Darren Urban at firstname.lastname@example.org. Posted 12/30/07. Updated 12/30/07.