Cards steam into offseason with 44-6 win over miserable Rams

LOS ANGELES (AP) When David Johnson's left knee bent perilously during a first-quarter tackle, the Arizona Cardinals worried their meaningless season finale had acquired a horrible new importance.

But their star running back appeared to avoid a major injury, and the Cardinals' day only got better - particularly for Larry Fitzgerald.

Carson Palmer threw touchdown passes to Jeremy Ross, Darren Fells and Fitzgerald, and the Cardinals wrapped up a frustrating season with a 44-6 victory over the freefalling Los Angeles Rams on Sunday.

Fitzgerald caught five passes and took the overall NFL lead with 107 catches in perhaps his final game for the Cardinals (7-8-1). He couldn't enjoy the first half of the game after Johnson left the field on a cart, but Fitzgerald and his teammates all loosened up when Johnson returned to the sideline in the second half, putting weight on his leg.

''We're praying it's all positive, and I can block for him in the Pro Bowl in the next couple of weeks,'' Fitzgerald said.

Johnson gained 100 yards from scrimmage in an NFL-record 15 straight games for the Cardinals while becoming the first player in team history with 2,000 yards and 20 touchdowns. The Cardinals had no immediate update on his prognosis, although coach Bruce Arians is optimistic it isn't serious.

The inept Rams were less frightening than Johnson's injury to the Cardinals and Fitzgerald, who intends to take his time with his decision on retirement following his 13th NFL season.

He returned to the field in the fourth quarter to score while taking the NFL receptions lead amid chants of ''Larry! Larry!'' from the Coliseum crowd. Fitzgerald hadn't scored since Week 5 against San Francisco.

''It's disappointing, but we really finished the season on a high note,'' said Fitzgerald, who moved ahead of Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown and New England's Julian Edelman with his last catch.

''I always stay in the moment, and the game wasn't over yet. I was still honed in and focused on what we had to accomplish. ... I approach the offseason the same way all the time: It's jet-setting time. Where's Waldo?''

The Cardinals missed the playoffs one year after reaching the NFC championship game despite an offense and a defense ranked in the top quarter of the league. Arizona still finished the season strong with wins over NFC West champion Seattle and Los Angeles (4-12), which has lost seven straight.

The Cardinals sacked Jared Goff seven times - three by Markus Golden - and allowed just 122 yards by the Rams, who wrapped up their homecoming season with their worst record since 2011.

''I'm not sure there is much'' of a bright spot to this season, Goff said. ''Maybe that we have a change coming that is going to be positive and bring a lot of positive energy.''

Justin Bethel capped the blowout with a 68-yard TD return of Sean Mannion's interception with 8:06 to play.

Los Angeles lost 11 of its final 12 games in an incredible pratfall. Interim coach John Fassel went 0-3 after replacing the fired Jeff Fisher late in this franchise's 13th consecutive non-winning season.

''This isn't the culture you want to live in,'' offensive tackle Rodger Saffold said. ''I've been here seven years and still haven't had a winning season. I know I've worked hard enough to deserve better.''

GOFF'S LAST GASP

Goff wrapped up his winless rookie season by going 13 of 20 for 120 yards while getting physically clobbered by yet another defense. The No. 1 overall pick went 0-7 with seven interceptions and five TD passes for the Rams, who lost their final six home games after winning their ballyhooed opener in September.

SIMPLY THE WORST

The Rams managed 482 yards in their final three games under Fassel, including 81 yards in the first three quarters against Arizona. They will finish as the NFL's 32nd-ranked offense for the second straight season.

HEISMAN RETURN

Palmer went 20 of 38 for 255 yards in a solid return to the stadium where he won the Heisman Trophy 14 years ago with Southern California. He hadn't been back inside the Coliseum since throwing four touchdown passes to beat Notre Dame in November 2002. He posed for photos with his family on the field after the game, as did another USC product, defensive lineman Frostee Rucker.

TYPICAL STRUGGLES

The Rams went nowhere on offense for their first 5 1/2 drives before back-to-back big gainers, but even that went wrong. After Todd Gurley caught a 29-yard pass, Tavon Austin ran 38 yards for a TD on a direct snap to the wideout - but it was wiped out by an illegal motion penalty against Goff, of all people.

---

For more NFL coverage: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide—from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Andy Staples, Grant Wahl, and more—delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.