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Freeney, Cardinals clinch playoff spot, stop Vikings 23-20

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Dwight Freeney considered retirement. A month into the season he still wasn't on a team. Then the Arizona Cardinals came calling, looking to boost their troubled pass rush.

The 35-year-old veteran of 14 NFL seasons helped a whole bunch Thursday night.

Freeney stripped the ball from Teddy Bridgewater with 5 seconds remaining to deprive the Vikings a chance at the tying field goal, and the Cardinals clinched a playoff berth with a 23-20 victory over Minnesota.

"That's why I came back, because moments like this, you can't duplicate those in life," Freeney said.

Bridgewater moved the Vikings to the Arizona 31-yard line, well within the range of Blair Walsh. But Freeney hit the quarterback's arm as Bridgewater tried to pass. The ball came loose and Calais Campbell recovered for Arizona.

"To be able to have this type of dream situation, fourth quarter, game on the line, it's kind of like ninth inning, two outs," Freeney said, "one of those situations for a defensive lineman, and I was able to make a play."

Arizona coach Bruce Arians said the Vikings "were in field goal range for sure. It was a great play by him and that's why he's going to the Hall of Fame."

Bridgewater said he "had a clear understanding of the situation" when the play unfolded.

"We didn't have any timeouts, couldn't afford to get tackled in bounds," he said. "The play was designed to push the ball down a little and allow our guy to make the catch and get out of bounds. I had that clock going off in my head. I was ready to throw."

Chandler Catanzaro's 47-yard field goal with 1:23 to go was the winning score as Arizona (11-2) won its seventh in a row.

Bridgewater passed for 335 yards and a touchdown for the Vikings (8-5), who were playing without four defensive starters but made it close after being embarrassed at home by Seattle 38-7 on Sunday.

Carson Palmer threw for 310 yards and two touchdowns for the Cardinals, who will win the NFC West if Seattle loses Sunday at Baltimore.

Minnesota's Adrian Peterson wanted more carries than the eight he got (for 9 yards) against the Seahawks. He got them, carrying 23 times for 69 yards, but had only 31 yards on 19 attempts after his 9-yard touchdown run on the Vikings' first possession of the night.

Palmer connected on scoring plays of 65 yards to John Brown and 42 to Michael Floyd. His 30th and 31st touchdown passes broke the franchise record of 30 set by Kurt Warner in Arizona's 2008 Super Bowl season.

Floyd caught five passes for 102 yards. David Johnson, the rookie who stepped in when the Cardinals' top two backs were hurt, rushed for 92 yards in 19 attempts.

After Walsh's 54-yard field goal cut the Arizona lead to 20-13 and the Cardinals failed to convert on third-and-1, the Vikings went 88 yards in 11 plays, tying it 20-20 on Bridgewater's third-down, 7-yard touchdown pass to Mike Wallace with 4:50 remaining.

Arizona moved downfield and left guard Mike Iupati caught a deflected pass for 10 yards in the drive to the decisive field goal.

The Vikings fumbled the ball away three times: once deep in Arizona territory; again near midfield to lead to a Cardinals touchdown; and finally when Freeney, who signed with Arizona on Oct. 13, burst around the left side of the Minnesota line to knock the ball away and preserve the victory.

Peterson had one of the fumbles on what was supposed to be a reverse. Josh Mauro knocked the ball away from him and Alex Okafor recovered at the Arizona 43. Five plays later, Palmer threw to Floyd, who followed Larry Fitzgerald's crunching block and raced down the sideline for the touchdown that made it 17-10

The Vikings had tied it 10-all on Walsh's 44-yard field goal with 7 seconds left in the first half. Earlier, Minnesota was driving for what would have been the go-ahead touchdown when Jarius Wright caught a short pass from Bridgewater, then was hit by Deone Bucannon and fumbled. Bucannon recovered at the Arizona 15.

Copyright 2015 by The Associated Press

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