|Clinton Portis finishes his rookie season with 1,508 yards and 17 touchdowns.(AP)|
Following in the footsteps of Terrell Davis, Olandis Gary and Mike Anderson, Portis set team rookie records with 1,508 yards and 17 touchdowns.
He finished with seven 100-yard games, had the fifth-highest rushing total by a rookie in league history and has a good chance to become Denver's second offensive rookie of the year in three seasons.
"He looked like Terrell Davis," Denver defensive end Trevor Pryce said. "That's the biggest compliment you can give a running back."
The Broncos (9-7) started the game knowing they were already out of the postseason, but it didn't stop Portis from getting his first 200-yard game on any level.
Portis had 120 yards on eight carries by halftime and scored on a 4-yard run off left tackle to put the Broncos up 30-7 midway through the fourth.
He added a 12-yard touchdown run late, taking off around right end and dancing his way through the middle before working his way back to the left side of the end zone.
Not bad for someone who didn't become the starter until the fifth game of the season.
"You look back and think that things happen for a reason," Portis said. "What if I would have actually played in those games?"
For one, the Broncos might have secured a playoff spot early instead of watching the scoreboard before their last game.
Denver's postseason hopes hinged on Atlanta beating Cleveland earlier in the day, but the Falcons failed on a fourth-and-1 in the closing seconds to lose 24-16.
Denver coach Mike Shanahan gave his team the news just before kickoff, and the Broncos responded with 450 total yards and their most lopsided victory of the season.
It still couldn't mask the disappointment of what many players felt was a wasted season.
Denver lost five of eight after a 6-2 start to miss the playoffs for the third time in four years since winning consecutive Super Bowls.
"Nobody is going to make any excuses," said Steve Beuerlein, who started in place of Brian Griese. "We know we blew it and the disappointment was evident."
Arizona (5-11) closed out the season by losing nine of 10 after a 4-2 start. The injury-plagued Cardinals lost at least 11 games for the eighth time in their 15 seasons in Arizona.
"You found out that these guys will fight, but at the same time we've got to get better in some areas," said Arizona coach Dave McGinnis, who had 13 players out for the season. "The first thing we have to do is get healthy."
Beuerlein threw for 203 yards and two touchdowns. He opened the third quarter by hitting Ashley Lelie for a 5-yard touchdown pass, then connected with Rod Smith on a 10-yard score early in the fourth to put Denver up 23-7.
Griese was benched after throwing two interceptions in the first quarter of a 28-16 loss to Oakland last week, leaving his future with the team in doubt.
"I'm not worried about next year. There are a lot of things that go into that," Denver coach Mike Shanahan said of the quarterback situation.
Jason Elam, a free agent who has said he will not return to Denver next season, hit field goals of 44, 54 and 21 yards for Denver's only points in the first half.
Arizona cut the lead to 9-7 on a 1-yard pass from Jake Plummer to Kevin Kasper with 1 second left in the first half, one play after an interception by Deltha O'Neal was overturned by a video replay.
Kasper, who was released by Denver in October, had four catches for 44 yards and 171 yards in kick returns.
Plummer was 13-for-27 for 132 yards in what was potentially his final game with the Cardinals. He is a free agent and hasn't indicated whether he will return to Arizona.
"I can't tell you what's going to happen," Plummer said. "There's a scenario that could happen where I'm back, and a scenario that I'm not back. I can sit here and try to ponder, but I really don't know."
- Griese didn't play, but still set a team record by hitting 66 percent of his passes this season. He set the previous record of 64 percent in 2000.
- Smith finished with 1,027 yards, extending his own team record to six consecutive 1,000-yard seasons.
- The Cardinals finished with their fourth losing season since reaching the playoffs in 1998.
- Anderson held Denver's previous rookie records with 1,487 yards and 15 TDs.
The Associated Press News Service
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