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James Conner's Playoff Effort Underscored Toughness He Delivered

Cardinals running back set to appear in Pro Bowl Sunday after 18-TD season

RB James Conner signs an autograph at the 2022 Pro Bowl

Given how important James Conner was to the Cardinals' offense this season, the ribs injury suffered at the end of the regular-season finale against the Seahawks – with the playoffs looming – was a difficult reality.

Yet the running back, who had 18 touchdowns for the Cardinals in the regular season, never once considered not being part of the postseason.

"I was in a lot of pain, but it was win or go home so I had to make myself available," Conner told while at the Pro Bowl this week. "The way things went (the game) kind of got out of hand quick, but I knew I was a free agent, I knew it (could be) the last game, I wanted to do what I had been doing all season, laying it all on the line with everything I've got. It wasn't going to change for potentially the last game of the season."

Conner even turned down the opportunity for a painkiller shot before the game.

"I didn't want to get the injection on my side, for safety and health reasons," Conner said. "I was still willing to be out there. It was a decision I made just to be sure."

Conner only played 14 snaps in the 34-11 Cardinals' loss to the Rams, gaining 19 yards on four carries and adding five yards on a reception. His health likely didn't have a bearing with how the game played out, but there is no question the Cardinals wouldn't have had the season they did – 11 wins, most since 2015 – without Conner's big year.

The Cardinals signed Conner for a mere $1.75 million, and the veteran made it pay off, culminating in his Pro Bowl appearance.

The Pro Bowl is Sunday in Las Vegas, with kickoff at 1 p.m. Arizona time.

It's what is beyond the Pro Bowl that will soon become front of mind for Conner and the Cardinals, however. Conner signed a prove-it deal, and his case was proven. Now he'll be a free agent, and the Cards have to balance Conner's importance with the realities of how much to pay a running back.

Conner, who has repeatedly talked about his gratitude for the Cardinals for signing him and giving him a role in which he could flourish, wants to stay. He says it in a way that goes beyond the boilerplate fashion in which most free agents utter the same sentiments.

"With AZ, with the opportunity that they gave me, the relationships I've built there, I would love to continue out there," Conner said. "With free agency, I'm excited to see what comes next."

Free agency begins March 16, although teams can re-sign their own free agents at any point.

If he does return, Conner would like to have a chance to rewrite the Cardinals' ending. No ribs injury, no opening playoff loss.

"How we went out, it wasn't the way we wanted it to end," Conner said. "We had so much talent on our team. But we fight through, try to regroup and try to get another shot at it next year."