Arizona Cardinals take one step, now they set sights on ‘a lot more’

The Arizona Cardinals thumped the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday to continue their run as one of the top teams in the NFL this season.

Arizona Cardinals players John Brown, right, and Larry Fitzgerald celebrate after a touchdown against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday in the NFL. Matt Rourke / AP / December 20, 2015
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The Arizona Cardinals are NFC West champions. Now, they have more to accomplish.

David Johnson ran for 187 yards and three touchdowns, Carson Palmer threw a TD pass and the Cardinals beat the Philadelphia Eagles 40-17 on Sunday night to clinch their first division title since 2009.

The Cardinals (12-2) will earn a first-round bye with a victory over the Green Bay Packers next week. They still have a chance to secure the No 1 seed if they win out and the Carolina Panthers (14-0) lose their last two games.

Afterward, coach Bruce Arians wore a hat that said: “NFC West Champions”.

“I have a closet full of them, but this is a good one,” he said. “Still, I want one with a lot more written on it.”

The Eagles (6-8) would win the NFC East title if they beat Washington (7-7) at home on Saturday and the New York Giants (6-8) on the road on January 3.

But they’re not even close to Arizona’s level.

The Cardinals outclassed Philadelphia in every way on their way to their eighth straight victory.

“If we don’t take care of business on Saturday, there’s no need to talk about the second game,” Eagles coach Chip Kelly said.

Johnson, a rookie filling in for injured backs Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington, had a pair of 1-yard TD runs and a 47-yarder.

“I’m just trying to learn, get better and help the team win,” Johnson said.

Palmer gave Cardinals fans a brief scare when he came out for one play after injuring his right index finger on a throw. But he returned to toss a 16-yard TD pass to John Brown and finished 20-of-32 for 274 yards.

“It’s very gratifying to come into this environment against a team that’s hot,” Palmer said. “It’s a blast to be part of this group. We’re coached hard and we play hard.”

Deone Bucannon returned Sam Bradford’s interception 39 yards for a touchdown to give Arizona a 37-10 lead early in the fourth quarter, sending fans to the exits.

Bradford threw for 361 yards and two TDs, including a 78-yard score to Jordan Matthews.

“Everybody is frustrated,” Bradford said. “Good news is we have to have a short memory. The next two games are important.”

Tyrann Mathieu intercepted Bradford’s pass late in the fourth quarter and limped off the field. There was no immediate word on his injury.

The Eagles had fumbles end consecutive drives in the third quarter. Bradford lost the ball on a sack by Markus Golden at Arizona’s 44 and Ryan Mathews turned it over at midfield.

Johnson broke several tackles on his long run to give the Cardinals a 17-10 lead in the second quarter. He appeared stopped for a short gain, but came out of a pile and sprinted down the right sideline while fighting off defenders.

The Eagles were driving for the tying score, but went for 4th-and-1 at the Cardinals 8 and Mathews was stopped for no gain. DeMarco Murray is 14-for-14 on third and fourth downs of 2 yards or less, but he didn’t get a carry until the third quarter.

“We had a 230-pound back in there and we thought we can pound it for a yard,” Kelly said.

After forcing Arizona’s first punt, the Eagles quickly drove 53 yards to tie it at 10 in the second quarter. Mathews started the drive with a 20-yard run on the first play and Bradford connected with Zach Ertz over the middle for a 22-yard TD pass.

The Cardinals easily moved the ball on their opening drive and Johnson ran in from the 1 for a 7-0 lead. Palmer would’ve had a 78-yard TD pass on the first play from scrimmage but Brown dropped a deep throw in stride.

Bradford went down for one play and Mark Sanchez came in for a handoff. Fans stood up, yelled and motioned for Bradford to get up while he was laying on the field. The Eagles lost two games by a total of 90-31 when Sanchez started two games last month.

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