Vikings scare Cardinals, but Arizona's in the playoffs

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Posted: Dec 11, 2015 2:51 AM
Vikings scare Cardinals, but Arizona's in the playoffs

GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Dwight Freeney has been harassing NFL quarterbacks for 14 years.

Add Teddy Bridgewater to the list.

Freeney knocked the ball out of Bridgewater's hand as the Minnesota quarterback prepared to pass. Arizona's Calais Campbell recovered with 5 seconds to go and the Cardinals escaped with a 23-20 victory over the Vikings on Thursday night.

"Freeney is a heck of a player," Minnesota tight end Kyle Rudolph said, "and he's been doing that for a long time."

The Vikings, as they did much of the night, moved swiftly downfield to the Arizona 31, well within Blair Walsh's range for a game-tying field goal.

But it never came to that, thanks to the 35-year-old Freeney, who didn't sign with Arizona until Oct. 13.

"That's why I came back, because moments like this, you can't duplicate those in life," Freeney said. "...Yeah, it was one of my spin moves. It's funny because I spun three times on that series."

The third time was a charm.

Carson Palmer threw for 310 yards and two touchdowns and the Cardinals (11-2) won their seventh in a row and clinched a spot in the playoffs.

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

The Cardinals' goal is at least a No. 2 seed in the NFC West, which would mean a first-round bye. With this victory, Arizona pulled 2 1/2 games ahead of Green Bay and three ahead of Minnesota for that No. 2 spot with three to play.

Palmer even had a 6-foot-5, 331-pound receiver. Left guard Mike Iupati caught a deflected pass and carried it for an 11-yard gain to help set up what proved to be a 47-yard game-winning field goal with 1:25 left.

Minnesota (8-5) fell a half-game behind Green Bay for first place in the NFC North.

Here are five things to take from a wild game.

BRIDGEWATER'S BIG NIGHT: The fumble aside, Bridgewater had one of the best games of his young career.

He completed 25 of 36 passes for a career-high 335 yards and a touchdown.

INSPIRATIONAL DEFEAT: The Vikings were coming off an embarrassing 38-7 home loss to Seattle and they didn't have four starters on defense.

It seemed pre-game to be a recipe for a one-sided defeat. But Minnesota gave Arizona fits all night.

"I thought our team resembled more of what I am used to seeing," Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. "We played with a lot of physicality, a lot of heart, a lot of effort."

Most impressive was the 11-play, 88-yard drive that Bridgewater engineered in the fourth quarter, capped by his seven-yard touchdown pass to Mike Wallace that tied it at 20-20 with 4:50 to play.

"I think we took a big step as a unit," Bridgewater said. "We showed we're capable of doing some great things. Whenever we're clicking on all cylinders we're a tough team to stop."

PALMER HITS 4,000: Palmer passed 4,000 yards in a season for the fifth time in his career, third in the last four years. He became the first player with multiple 4,000-yard seasons for the Cardinals. He's easily on pace to top his career best of 4,274 yards set two years ago in his first season in Arizona.

Palmer's touchdown passes were his 30th and 31st of the season, breaking the franchise record of 30 TDs set by Kurt Warner in Arizona's 2008 Super Bowl season.

"Kurt has been a great player for a long time, in a bunch of leagues it seems like," Palmer said. "I've been a fan of his, the way he played the game. To break that record is a tremendous honor."

COSTLY MISTAKES: The Vikings lost three fumbles. The Cardinals had no turnovers.

That statistic goes a long way in explaining Arizona's victory.

Deone Bucannon knocked the ball from Darius Wright's hands deep in Cardinals territory in the first half. Later, Peterson lost the ball trying to pitch it on a reverse and Alex Okafor recovered for the Cardinals. Finally, the strip of Bridgewater that saved the win for Arizona.

PETERSON'S NIGHT: Peterson said earlier this week that the Vikings were "outplayed and outcoached" in the blowout loss to Seattle. He undoubtedly was not pleased with just eight carries for nine yards in that contest.

He carried 23 times for 69 yards Thursday night, but 38 of them came on four carries on the Vikings' opening possession, culminating in his nine-yard run for his 100th career touchdown. After that drive, he managed just 31 yards in 19 attempts.