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James Conner's Quest For 1,000, And Friday Before The Seahawks

James Conner, the emotional leader and battering ram of the Cardinals, is remarkably soft-spoken off the field. And that's the vibe he had this week when I asked him about the possibility of reaching 1,000 yards rushing.

"Thinking about it a little bit," Conner said. "Want to win the game first and foremost but it'd be cool to touch that."

Conner has 890 yards rushing and given that he has surpassed 100 yards in two of his last four games – and given that the Seahawks' run defense has not been good – it is within reach.

This wouldn't be some 17-game production, a simple testament to the length of the season. Conner missed four games on IR with a knee injury (and half of a fifth game when he got hurt). This will be 1,000 yards in 13 games, a mark that even old-school NFL people – who recall when the season was only 14 games back before 1978 -- can appreciate.

"We live through him with all the stats and awards and all that (expletive) so we aren't heavily involved in the stat game, but we do get hyped up for our guy whenever he gets things like that," right guard Will Hernandez said. "Because you know, even though he kills it on his own and he's a great running back, we had a little bit to do with it."

Conner has never had 1,000 yards in a season. He is 84 yards shy of surpassing the 971 he had in 2018 with the Steelers. The last Cardinals to reach the century mark was David Johnson, who had 1,249 in his spectacular 2016 season.

Conner's worth to the Cardinals goes so far beyond his statistics or even anything tangible. They were adrift when he got hurt (he, like Kyler Murray, missed the first game against Seattle) and the fact his return from IR dovetailed exactly with Murray's return to the field was perfect happenstance in the least if not excellent maneuvering.

If Jonathan Gannon asked Research and Development to come up with his perfect player, it'd be Conner. (Side note: The Cardinals have no such R&D department.)

Gannon was asked why he likes Conner and he simply said "I can't even say enough, truthfully."

"There is no better blueprint of how to be a pro," Gannon added.

The Seahawks are allowing 134.1 rushing yards a game, 30th in the NFL, and 4.5 yards an attempt. Last week, the Steelers' Najee Harris – coincidentally, the man drafted to replace Conner in Pittsburgh – had 122 yards on 27 carries against Seattle.

"For this line to have a back go for a 1,000, that's what every offensive line wants," right tackle Paris Johnson Jr. said. "That's what you want to be the standard, that we have 1,000-yard rushers. We know that that's his talent, that's his God-given ability to do that, but it's on us. 110? We've got to get that."

Something tells me that if Conner did reach that mark, he wouldn't be soft-spoken about it in the moment.

"It wouldn't just be my accomplishment," Conner said, noting all the blockers on the offense. "It would be nice for all of us to celebrate it together."

-- The Cardinals, if they win this game, could see their draft pick fall from 4 to 7. If they lose, they cannot pick any lower than 4. For draft reasons, Cards fans will want the Patriots (playing the Jets), Commanders (Cowboys), Giants (Eagles), Chargers (Chiefs) and Titans (Jaguars) all to win. All of those teams are playing at home, coincidentally.

-- Cards fans also want the Texans to lose, but there are so many teams bunched around that particular first-round pick, I think we'll just let it play out.

-- Since moving to the NFC West in 2002, the Cardinals have not gone through a season winless in the division. They are 0-5 now with their one chance left.

-- Uniform update: The Cardinals will close out the season red-on-red.

-- Former Cardinals QB Colt McCoy was on the Pat McAfee Show on Friday and was talking about the Cardinals and being "bullish" on what Jonathan Gannon and Monti Ossenfort are building. McCoy was cut at the end of training camp after the team traded for Joshua Dobbs.

"I have no hard feelings," McCoy said. "I love the game. I know where they wanted to go, and my elbow was banged up. I get it. I'll always love the Cardinals."

McCoy said he had surgery on his right elbow in January. More notable, McCoy said the elbow is still an issue – while he can throw a football, he said he wouldn't be sure if he could do it in practices and games multiple weeks in a row.

-- Tight end Trey McBride – who had a great blocking day last week in Philly – needs nine yards receiving to become only the second tight end in franchise history (Jackie Smith, of course) to reach 800 yards in a season. He also needs two receptions to reach 80, as he builds on a season record he already has long owned.

-- The Cardinals have a streak of 36 straight games with a sack against the Seahawks. But that is contrasted with the fact the Cardinals have just one sack in their past five games, and that came when Bears quarterback Justn Fields scrambled out of bounds at the line of scrimmage, which still counted as a Dennis Gardeck sack.

"Affecting the quarterback is one of our core principles on defense," Gannon said. "You want to hit and affect the quarterback. I don't think it's a winning stat. I'd like to see us affect the quarterback more, but that's not just the guys that are rushing. That's the coverage behind it, that's the looks pre-snap, the execution of all 11 guys. Yes, that needs to uptick, but I do think at times we have made the quarterback uncomfortable and made him play him from the pocket or bounce him from the pocket quicker and faster than he wants."

-- It is supposed to rain on Sunday, so there's a chance that'll impact whether the roof would be opened.

-- The last word – or in this case, words – come from Pro Bowl safety Budda Baker. The veteran, who wanted a new contract last offseason, tweeted Thursday about the finale. It read "Last ride Sunday at State Farm stadium. I Appreciate the loyal for all of your support. The 3 Haters, aye I appreciate y'all too. It's Love either way."

The reference to "last ride" perked ears, but Baker said it only referred to the last game of the season and nothing more.

"It's about the season, the last game of the season. Of course we're not going to the playoffs … just being able to go and play in front of our fans and try and get a W. That's the main focus. Everything else will take care of itself. I'm glad fans want to keep me here. At the end of the day, you always understand that it's a business."

Another season of Friday Befores is in the books. See you Sunday.

Arizona Cardinals running back James Conner (6) during the Week 17 regular season game between the Arizona Cardinals and the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, Dec 31, 2023 in Philadelphia, PA.