Coach Ken Whisehunt smiles with Darnell Dockett (90) and Terrelle Smith after the two gave him a Gatorade bath to celebrate the Cards' division-clinching 34-10 win Sunday. For a photo gallery of the game and the celebration, click here.
Finally, 1998 has been equaled. 1975 has been matched. Soon, 1947 will be as well.
The Cardinals won the NFC West Sunday by whipping the St. Louis Rams, 34-10, the franchise's first playoff berth in a decade and their first division crown in more than 30 years. It also secured the Cards at least one home playoff game since the team won the NFL title in Chicago 61 years ago.
"You're not always promised to play on good teams," said safety Adrian Wilson, the longest-tenured Cardinal after arriving in 2002. "This is a blessing. This is obviously the best team we have had.
"It's a lot you can think back on. … Emotionally, I am just everywhere right now."
Most of the Cards were everywhere after it was over, with coach Ken Whisenhunt getting a Gatorade bath from his players and defensive tackle Darnell Dockett holding up a towel with a homemade message that proclaimed the team "NFC West Champs."
The season still has three games left before the playoffs, but Sunday evening was about the accomplishment.
"One way or another, we've all been through some hard times," said guard Reggie Wells, who has been a Card since 2003.
The Cardinals (8-5) scored touchdowns on their first two drives, creating a 14-0 lead that gave Arizona control from the start. The Cards did a little running (63 yards on 22 carries), but once again leaned on the right arm of quarterback Kurt Warner and a defense that needed to rebound after a terrible game in Philadelphia.
The unit scored two touchdowns on turnovers, including a franchise record-tying 99-yard interception return by rookie cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. The other came when Dockett scooped up the ball and rumbled 11 yards to the end zone.
Warner completed, throwing a touchdown pass in his 21st straight game (to Larry Fitzgerald) and finding Steve Breaston often (seven catches for 90 yards).
The only hint of life the Rams (2-11) got came after the Cards had built the 14-0 lead. Warner, flushed from the pocket, floated a bad pass into traffic that was intercepted by cornerback Ron Bartell. Bartell returned it to the Arizona 6-yard line, setting up the Rams' lone touchdown.
From there, however, it was clear the Cardinals weren't going to be denied again their long-awaited division championship.
Cardinals wide receiver Anquan Boldin had 62 yards on five receptions to surpass the 1,000-yard receiving mark for the fourth time in his career, but the Cards milked the clock often in the second half instead of pushing toward big offensive numbers.
"That was kind of the approach of the second half, play a little more conservative and don't give them anything easy," Warner said.
Statistically the Cardinals didn't dominate – at the end of the game, the Cards had only outgained the Rams, 335-308, and had a little more than a minute edge in time of possession – but it was obvious the Rams weren't coming back.
Rodgers-Cromartie ended the only serious touchdown threat with the pick he used his world-class speed to run length of the field. And Docket noted the multiple dropped passes the Rams had on their final drive despite being open most times.
"You could tell they didn't want to play," Dockett said.
The Cards do have a lot to play for, now that there will be Cardinals' postseason football in Arizona for the first time.
"What is special about this is where we have come from since I have been here," Warner said. "What this organization was when I got here and the perception of it and the work we had to do until now, it's sweet. This is just the beginning, but where we are at, it's a special accomplishment."
PLAYOFF TICKET INFO
The Cardinals are in the final stages of fulfilling playoff ticket orders for season-ticket holders. That should be completed later this week. Then current season-ticket holders will have the opportunity to buy additional playoff tickets.
On Dec. 15, those on the season-ticket waiting list can buy playoff tickets. Any remaining tickets will go on sale to the general public Dec. 20. The date of the Cardinals' home playoff game has yet to be determined.
Contact Darren Urban at firstname.lastname@example.org. Posted 12/7/08.