Though the postseason may be out of reach for Arizona, the Cardinals came out all guns blazing against the Denver Broncos, earning an important win for the Cardinals' morale.
The 43-13 victory was the first competitive start for fifth-round pick John Skelton and was the Cardinals' penultimate home game of 2010.
While it is important to remember that their opponents are not the NFLs best team, any win for this Cardinals team is a big achievement in the wake of a 2010 season marked by poor play and disappointment.
For the Cardinals, the win snapped a seven-game losing streak and gave their fans a whole lot to be excited about.
In his first professional start, John Skelton lead the Arizona Cardinals to their first win in seven games.
Let's be clear.
Skelton did not win the game for the Cardinals. He did not throw a touchdown, completed less than half of his passes and did not make any huge plays. He passed for just 144 yards, fewer than counterpart Kyle Orton, but he did help the team to win.
He is still a long way away from being a permanent starter in the NFL. He is just not ready play at an NFL level every week yet.
If you take a look at the numbers, there isn't really anything to write home about. But then take a look at some different numbers.
Skelton is a rookie QB starting his first game, and as such, you normally see two things: turnovers and sacks. Skelton had neither.
It's not that the Broncos didn't try. They blitzed him and Champ Bailey was on fine form, but he was just better than their best attempts.
But numbers tell only half of the story. Until the beginning of this week, Skelton had not practiced with the first team. He had not learned the playbook and had no timing with his receivers. On his opening drives, it looked that way too. Skelton did not complete one of his opening six passes, but soon he developed a nice understanding of where and when his receivers would be.
His passes were not always on the numbers but, given his one week of practice, he was by quite a distance the best quarterback the Cardinals have seen all year.
More than anything, for a rookie, he made good decisions and managed the game well. With the exception of one ill-conceived shovel pass, and a deep pass in the vicinity of nine-time Pro Bowler Champ Bailey, Skelton never looked likely to turn the ball over.
He made sensible calls. He escaped pressure and got out of the pocket when he needed to. If there was no play, he chose not to force the ball, putting it instead in the third row.
He has a good arm, and decent mobility, and while he seems to air the ball out a little too much on the deep ball, everything just looked better under the big rookie from Fordham.
But there was more still to like about John Skelton.
Unlike either Max Hall or Derek Anderson before him, he looked in control on field. He had a good sense about what he needed to do, and when.
He looked comfortable in the pocket and was decisive when he did throw it. For someone who did not know the offense, he managed it very well.
He did not give away where he was throwing by staring down his receivers; he looked off multiple receivers, and made the right decisions about who to throw to.
He trusted his elite wide receiver, Larry Fitzgerald, even though he was covered by Bailey, who shut down a red-hot Dwayne Bowe last week.
As I said, I'm a long way from declaring him the franchise quarterback at Arizona, but one thing is sure: he has earned the right to prove that he could be in 2011. He should certainly have the chance to start the remaining games of 2010 and cement himself as a candidate for 2011.
When talking about MVPs, it is rare for a kicker to be mentioned.
Without a doubt, Feely was for the Cardinals this week.
Feely hit five of six field goal attempts, all his extra points and, if you didn't see it, the picture is for real: he also got a rushing touchdown.
Many fans, myself included, considered a player like Neil Rackers irreplaceable. However, Feely was fantastic almost everywhere on the field.
A 55-yarder to tie his career long looked simple, splitting the uprights with distance to spare.
Feely also made sure he was down the field to make a play on kickoffs and was not afraid to make some fantastic tackles.
But without a doubt, his high point on the day was his first-half touchdown run on fourth down.
Many people had asked why Feely wears gloves; in this game, he demonstrated why.
A fantastic fake saw Feely rush for five yards to the end zone for six points. He also kicked the extra point afterwards.
You could say he is just a kicker but, as the Cardinals have struggled getting to the end zone, a kicker like Feely is a must. In Week 14 he posted 25 of the Cardinals' 43 points.
I have never been Hightower's biggest fan.
I have often felt that he runs for first downs, not touchdowns. I have always felt that he lacked the explosiveness to dominate and post points from anywhere on the field.
I had argued that he should be replaced on most reps with LaRod Stephens-Howling.
In Week 14, Hightower led the Cardinals in rushing, including two long touchdown runs.
Hightower was consistent, made great cutbacks and found great lanes. For the first time in a long time, he looked elusive and explosive. He looked like any play could go for 30-plus yards. It felt as though he would keep going once he passed the first-down marker.
He did fumble the ball once, which has been a concern throughout his career, but one fumble and two touchdowns for 148 yards on 18 carries is more than acceptable.
Beanie Wells was once again limited, this time due to a reported stomach bug. Stephens-Howling had few nice runs too.
All in all, the Cardinals' running game was, for the first time this season, not abandoned, and it paid dividends.
In mid November, I wrote an article: Arizona Cardinals QB Woes Continue: How Can We Recover Losing Kurt Warner?
I first articulated my belief that the season was beginning to look out of reach and the Cardinals coaches needed to shake things up a little.
I have asked for it several occasions since then. Most recently, in my article Should the Arizona Cardinals Begin Tanking Games To Gain Draft Position? I wrote the following:
If the Cardinals continue to field John Skelton and give him real game experience, rather than starting whoever gives them the best chance to win... and work on unusual plays which everyone practices, but never get tried in play, then maybe the Cardinals won't have to throw their games.
If they treat the remainder of the season like the preseason, as an experience to grow, develop and improve for 2011, then it doesn't matter whether they win or lose, the fans can leave the stadium, heads high, having enjoyed a spectacle, even if they lose with a 30-plus point deficit.
For a long time, I have felt that the Cardinals' play-calling needs to reflect the nature of the position it finds itself in. It needs to reflect the desperation of the fans and acknowledge that. Whether it works or not, the Cardinals should still try to play an exciting game.
Finally, the coaches have heard my plea.
From a Jay Feely fake kick on fourth down to a double reverse pass by Steve Breaston, the Cardinals finally gave the fans something to cheer.
The game was chock full of plays the Cardinals aren't known for, from something as simple as keep running it to the aforementioned Feely touchdown.
It was a fantastic spectacle and, even had we have lost, it was much more enjoyable to watch than almost any other game this season.
They always say, save the best til last, so I shall.
The Cardinals defense was fantastic.
They kept Kyle Orton, who has averaged nearly 300 yards per game this season, in check by limiting him to 166 yards and picking him off not one, but three times.
They also recovered three fumbles.
They were much better against the run too.
Knowshon Moreno was limited to 81 yards, most of which were garbage yards in the fourth quarter.
There is very little to fault—perhaps a first this season for this defensive unit.
If there is one thing to fault: They have shown how talented they are and how devastating they can be, which gives them no excuse for what they have given us in previous weeks.
The play-calling was better and it's much easier to play well when you're controlling the game offensively, but some players were like night and day.
Everyone looked like a Pro Bowl version of themselves, and it was a joy to watch.
But it just goes to show how much all of these losses have taken a toll on the morale of this defensive unit. Hopefully, this win will propel them to greater highs throughout the remainder of the season.