The end comes not with a bang, but a whimper.
The Cardinals went on an amazing season-long journey, every step of the way documented by NFL Films to a historical degree. More than 1,000 hours of footage, 250 players and coaches wired for sound, 85 practices, 18 games, 110,000 miles traveled by the crew. In a best-case scenario, All or Nothing: A Season with the Arizona Cardinals would follow the team from draft day to the moment the Lombardi Trophy is hoisted.
The season ends on a sour note, a 49-15 road loss to the Carolina Panthers in the NFC Championship Game. The Cardinals, so dominant in stretches during the season, were stepped on by a better team. Bruce Arians said in a meeting before the season started that the only goal was to win the Super Bowl. Nothing else would be considered success. When you set a standard like that, the fall hurts even more.
After elimination became a reality, Larry Fitzgerald sat on a stool at his corner locker, his head down and back turned to the world. The great wide receiver doesn't move as teammates wrap their arms around him in a show of support. Arians would later remark that Fitzgerald "took the loss hard" and we can probably guess why. Fitzgerald will enter his 13th NFL season this fall. There's no guarantee he'll ever get another shot as good at this to win that elusive championship.
When the Cardinals left for Charlotte on Saturday, they were met by a thousand fans on the tarmac. When they arrive home at dawn on Monday, the runway is theirs alone. "All or nothing" indeed.
Now came the time for goodbyes. A team meeting, then a series of positional group meetings. The garbage bags come out as players pack their belongings. Palmer and John Brown discuss offseason schedules with the plan to connect soon. Not all the players will get another shot; center Lyle Sendlein acknowledges this as he cleans out his locker for what will likely be the final time.
All or Nothing ends the same place it started -- the camera's gaze fixed on Arians. He collects belongings, shuts off the television on his desk and gestures toward the large photo of Bear Bryant that hangs behind his desk. BA switches the light off and closes the door behind him. Another journey over, another one soon to begin.
Odds & Ends ...
» This is the eighth and final episode recap of All or Nothing. I really enjoyed the maiden voyage of this series, and fully expect us to get another installment focusing on a different team next year. It may be hard to top this Cardinals team, though. It's hard to run into this combination of personalities, star power and on-field success. It will be fun to see Amazon and NFL Films try.
"This is the moment, dawg. Don't y'all deserve to be champions? And I try my best not to come around because this sh-- hurts so much. That's why I don't come around. It hurts so f-----' much. But I know you all got me, dawg. But it ain't about T. And that's all I read on the headlines. It ain't about me! Because I ain't do it for me. I did this s--- for y'all. So you all do it for each other, man. Cause at the end of the day, it's all we got. That's how people are going to remember us. We ain't no f----- presidents and s---. This is how people are going to remember us, so why not go hard for this s---."
» Senator John McCain offered up a clunker for the ages during the tarmac pep rally. "Right now they're going to turn Cam Newton into a Fig Newton!" This was followed by the most awkward politician thumbs up in recorded history.
» The Cardinals did not see their whooping coming ... at all. There's a general feeling of "WTF?" on the sideline as the game slips further and further away. A telling moment comes when defensive coordinator James Bettcher looks down at his play card early in the game: "What's going to calm us down? What's going to calm us down? I'm trying to find it for us. Sh--!"
» General manager Steve Keim is a mess in the luxury suite. At one point, I seriously thought he might overturn the snack table. "We can't play any worse," he mutters to himself once resignation begins to set in. Less than 24 hours later he'll be in Alabama scouting the Senior Bowl. Not an easy gig.
»Eye-opening comments from running backs coach Stump Mitchell in a private meeting with rookie David Johnson: "I thought you were better than (Rams rookie Todd) Gurley. The Hall of Fame, you should have a bust when your ass is done playing. Hopefully you can stay healthy. I've coached some good backs, there ain't no question you're a Hall of Fame guy. None whatsoever."
» What was the song playing in the aftermath of the Panthers loss? Yep, I got your back. Thanks for reading. See you come Hard Knocks season.
The Amazon Original Series "All or Nothing: A Season with the Arizona Cardinals" is available now on Prime video. For more information go to NFL.com/allornothing.