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Freeney, Cardinals Spin Past Vikings

Sack and forced fumble end 23-20 win with flourish as Cards clinch playoff berth

Cardinals linebacker Dwight Freeney sacks Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and forces a fumble to clinch a 23-20 win Thursday night.
Cardinals linebacker Dwight Freeney sacks Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and forces a fumble to clinch a 23-20 win Thursday night.

This is why Dwight Freeney didn't want to retire.

This is why the veteran linebacker waited for a contender to ask him to play again. Why he was hoping coach Bruce Arians would ask him to come to the Cardinals.

Freeney's spin move got him to Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater at the perfect time Thursday night – a sack and forced fumble with less than 10 seconds to go, costing Minnesota a chance at a game-tying field goal and securing the Cardinals' 23-20 win at University of Phoenix Stadium.

"You can't duplicate moments like this in life," Freeney said. "To be able to have this type of dream situation, fourth quarter, game on the line … I was able to make a play."

A playoff berth was clinched with the win, the seventh in a row for the Cardinals (11-2). It was a weird game, quarterback Carson Palmer said, with the way it played out. The Vikings (8-5) were without their three best defensive players. Adrian Peterson got a touchdown but little else after Minnesota's first drive – he had 38 of his 69 yards on that initial possession -- but Bridgewater was effective.

The Cardinals won the turnover battle, forging a 3-0 edge on Freeney's last play – the fumble was recovered by defensive tackle Calais Campbell, who had a big game – but never could put away the Vikings until it was just about over.

"We're in the playoffs," Arians said. "We don't know where or when, but we're in.

"I'm happy that, on Tuesday, I can chew their ass out and we can get better."

Palmer threw a pair of touchdown passes to set the franchise record with 31 in a season, and both were thrilling long catch-and-runs – 65 yards to John Brown and 42 yards to Michael Floyd. Palmer threw for 310 yards with no interceptions. Running back David Johnson had 92 yards rushing on 19 carries.

But the Cardinals went 0-for-2 in the red zone – including one sequence with a first-and-goal at the Minnesota 2-yard line – and after Chandler Catanzaro kicked a 23-yard field goal to start the fourth quarter, the Cards were only nursing a 20-10 lead. That lead disappeared with five minutes to go when Bridgewater's lone touchdown pass tied the game.

It was unexpected with the Vikings defensive absences, but Palmer said Minnesota did little what they had been doing, in part because they didn't have the personnel to do it.

"I thought they tried to execute the game plan that we could have in a short week against a good offensive team," Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. "It wasn't by any stretch perfect, but we played hard."

The Cards got some breaks on their game-winning drive – guard Mike Iupati grabbed a batted pass in the air and rumbled for 10 yards – and Johnson came up with a huge 14-yard reception to get into reasonable field-goal range.

Catanzaro's 47-yard field goal gave the Cardinals the lead, but with 1:28 left, there was time to get into range of the big leg of Vikings kicker Blair Walsh.

The Vikings reached the Arizona 31 with 23 seconds left. Walsh, who already had a 54-yard field goal, could easily reach from there. Two incomplete passes later, the Vikings decided to try one more pass with 13 seconds to go.

Freeney did his spin move on tackle Matt Kalil. Bridgewater inexplicably held the ball beyond a quick throw. Freeney whacked Bridgewater's cocked arm and the ball got loose. Campbell grabbed the ball, and the Cards had yet another victory.

"I had that clock going off in my head," Bridgewater said. "Got ready to throw the ball out of bounds, but the guy just hit me from behind."

Game over.

"(Dwight) was running up the sideline all game saying, 'Let me get the quarterback,' " safety Tyrann Mathieu said. "That was the perfect time for him to step up and make a play."

The Cardinals now have some extended time off before playing "Sunday Night Football" in Philadelphia in 10 days. Much is left to accomplish, but the postseason is locked up.

"We accomplished one of our goals," Palmer said. "I don't think anyone is thinking a whole lot about it. Not to downplay it or disrespect it, but we have much bigger goals. This was one, and it's good to clinch one this early, but we have a lot of football left."

Freeney's sack was his fourth of the season, not only tops on the team but the sack that earned him a $200,000 incentive on his contract.

It was money well-spent by a team pushing for a deep playoff run.

"That is the sign of a great team, when you can pull these types of games off," Freeney said. "In December, these games are going to get closer and closer. These are all playoff games we are playing from here on out."

Images from the Week 14 "Thursday Night Football" matchup at University of Phoenix Stadium

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