Cardinals defensive linemen Frostee Rucker (92) and Ed Stinson (91, with Calais Campbell (center) get ready to take cell phone pictures with their NFC West champion gear following Sunday night's 40-17 win in Philadelphia.
PHILADELPHIA – Six years to the day of their last NFC West division title, the Cardinals got their hat and a T-shirts once again.
The 40-17 victory over the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field was a blowout, the kind of game a team vying for a first-round playoff bye should have. It was the Cardinals' 12th win of the season – the first team in franchise history to reach that total. And while it ended the Seahawks' reign at the top of the division, "there wasn't a whole lot of hooting and hollering in the locker room," coach Bruce Arians said.
"Clinching the West isn't the goal," Arians added.
The goal is to reach Super Bowl 50. Sunday night, in front of a national television audience, was simply the first step.
There was another reason any celebration was subdued. Safety Tyrann Matheiu, in the middle of a Pro Bowl season, went down without contact while returning an interception late in the game. Arians said he had "no idea" of Mathieu's prognosis, but cornerback
Patrick Peterson said Mathieu was hopeful his friend and secondary mate will be OK.
Quarterback Carson Palmer called the win "bittersweet" because of the Mathieu injury.
The Cardinals (12-2) need Mathieu. They don't have that bye yet – not after the Packers (10-4) stayed alive in that chase with a win Sunday – but they are oh so close.
And those Packers come to University of Phoenix Stadium next week, playing a team that has won eight straight for the first time since 1948.
They did it behind rookie running back David Johnson's 187 yards rushing – the most yards for a Cardinal since Beanie Wells battered the Rams in St. Louis for 228 back on Nov. 27, 2011 – and a defense that forced four turnovers, including dollar linebacker Deone Bucannon's first interception return for a touchdown in his life (and his first NFL pick.)
"We have big goals," Bucannon said. "Like everyone else in the NFL, we want to win the Super Bowl. That's no secret. This is one step."
The Cardinals looked like they were on the verge of grabbing a lead in big style from the opening play. Quarterback Carson Palmer had John "Smokey" Brown wide open for what was going to be a 78-yard bomb on the first play.
Except Brown dropped it.
Instead, Palmer – 20-for-32 for 274 yards and a touchdown, to Brown later in the game – took his team
on a methodical TD march that ended with the first of three Johnson touchdown runs. The Cardinals were excellent in short yardage, thanks in part to Johnson. Johnson also had a Marshawn Lynch-like 47-yard touchdown run, running into and through a pile of bodies before somehow powering out of it and down the sideline for a score.
"I was talking to veterans, this doesn't happen a lot your rookie year," Johnson said. "Helping out the team, and doing so well overall as a team. I can't get complacent myself."
The Cardinals rushed for 230 yards. They also have now scored 445 points this season, smashing the franchise record set in the Super Bowl season of 2008 (427) and there are still two games remaining. The Cardinals also won seven road games for the first time.
"There are a lot of stats, but at the end of the day, everyone remembers who wins the Super Bowl," Bucannon said.
The Cards were without starting center Lyle Sendlein (knee) and starting safety Rashad Johnson (ankle). The Eagles (6-8), whose NFC East hopes took a blow, moved the ball at times with their fast-tempo offense but couldn't overcome the multiple turnovers.
"It was just good to get some things clicking today," defensive tackle Frostee Rucker said. "Usually we have nail-biter games, and those games show character with our team because we fight to the end, but tonight, we finished. We controlled the ballgame. They had something to fight for, but so did we."
The celebration may not have been over the top but it didn't mean the Cardinals didn't enjoy the T-shirts and hats Arians had been referencing all week. Rucker and his defensive line mates got together to take cell phone pictures – the T-shirts said "The West Is On Lock" – and there were mainly smiles, although the Mathieu situation permeated the team.
Arians was asked if he was happy to be wearing the division championship hat. Not surprisingly, Arians shrugged it off.
"I've got a closet full of these," Arians said. "This is nice. But I want one that says a whole lot more than this one."
Images from the Cardinals' Week 15 matchup with the Eagles