PLAYOFF-BOUND! 3 takeaways from Cards' victory

Posted at 7:17 AM, Dec 11, 2015
and last updated 2015-12-11 09:17:01-05

For the second straight season, the Arizona Cardinals are playoff-bound -- but getting there required a lot of nail-biting among fans and a big play from a veteran linebacker.

With their 23-20 win over the Minnesota Vikings, the Cards improved to 11-2 on the season and clinched a spot in the playoffs. A Seattle Seahawks loss at the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday would give the Cards their first NFC West division championship since 2009.

Here are three big takeaways from the Cardinals' win:

1. Freeney frees the Cards

The Cardinals added veteran linebacker Dwight Freeney in October, and that move paid off big time in the final seconds Thursday. The 35-year-old recorded his fourth sack of the season and forced a fumble from Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater that defensive lineman Calais Campbell recovered to seal the victory. Arizona won the turnover battle by a 3-0 margin on Thursday.

It appeared we were headed for overtime in Glendale, as the Vikings had driven the ball down to Arizona's 31-yard line. But Freeney's big play with less than 10 seconds remaining bailed out a defensive unit that was picked apart by Bridgewater for most of the evening.

2. Cards' running game out-duels Peterson

The Cardinals are now 25-1 under coach Bruce Arians when they out-rush their opponents. Rookie running back David Johnson had his second straight big game as the team's featured back, rushing for 90 yards on 18 carries and hauling in four passes for 17 yards.

Vikings RB Adrian Peterson, the NFL's leading rusher this season, ran for 58 yards in the first half but was limited to just 11 yards on the ground in a second half that included his league-leading seventh fumble. When all was said and done, Johnson and the Cards out-rushed the Vikings by a 98-72 margin. 

3. Congrats, Carson

He got away with a couple passes that could have been picked off, but Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer made yet another case for his league MVP candidacy this season. The 13th-year pro completed 25 of 35 passes for 310 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions against a hobbled Vikings defense.

Palmer broke the Cardinals' single-season touchdown pass record in the third quarter when he connected with Michael Floyd for a 42-yard TD. Palmer now his 31 TD tosses this year to move him past Kurt Warner's previous record of 30 that came during the Cards' Super Bowl season of 2008.