The Arizona Cardinals edged the Minnesota Vikings 23-20 at the University of Phoenix Stadium on Thursday to secure a playoff berth but need to wait until Sunday to know if they have clinched the NFC West title.
The Cardinals blew a 10-point fourth-quarter lead but a 47-yard field goal from Chandler Catanzaro, his third of the game, with 1:28 remaining broke a tie and gave the home team a winning margin.
The Vikings had a chance to win it or at least force overtime but veteran pass rusher Dwight Freeney forced a fumble by Teddy Bridgewater that was recovered by the Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell with five seconds to go.
The Cardinals (11-2) extended their winning streak to seven games and they can claim their first division title since 2009 if the Seattle Seahawks lose or tie at Baltimore on Sunday.
Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer worked over a depleted Minnesota defense that was missing a handful of starters, throwing for 310 yards and two touchdowns.
He has 31 scoring passes on the year, breaking Kurt Warner’s single-season franchise record.
The loss was the third in four weeks for the Vikings, who are now jockeying to stay in playoff contention.
Bridgewater and running back Adrian Peterson helped Minnesota (8-5) get in position to tie the score at 20-20 with 4:55 left in the fourth quarter but the Vikings’ defense could not stop the league’s top-ranked offense down the stretch.
Minnesota ultimately was undone by three turnovers, all fumbles.
Peterson, who rushed for 69 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries after twice calling out the Vikings’ coaching staff for only giving him the ball eight times in last week’s loss to the Seahawks, had one of the fumbles.
Palmer, who was 25-of-35 with no interceptions, threw touchdown passes of 65 yards to wide receiver John Brown and 42 yards to wide receiver Michael Floyd.
After Catanzaro connected on a 23-yarder at the start of the fourth, Arizona had a 20-10 lead.
After a 53-yard field goal by Vikings kicker Blair Walsh, Bridgewater, who was 25-of-36 for 335 yards, fired a seven-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Mike Wallace to tie the score at 20-20.
Minnesota limped into the game without four starters on defense and those losses looked like they were going to doom the Vikings early as the Cardinals motored down the field on the game’s opening possession.
But after holding Arizona to a field goal, the Vikings had to like their chances as Bridgewater and Peterson took turns making big plays.
They went 80 yards in less than 3 1/2 minutes on their opening drive, capped by a brilliant nine-yard touchdown run by Peterson in which he made two quick cuts, then powered through the middle for his 100th career TD.
The Cardinals are renowned for their speed and Palmer used it to his advantage once again, connecting with Brown on a 65-yard touchdown pass and a 10-7 Cardinals lead.
Minnesota got a 44-yard field goal from Walsh with two seconds left in the second quarter to send the Vikings into the visitor’s locker room tied at 10-10. (Editing by John O’Brien)