Cam Newton and the Carolina defense appear unstoppable in Championship round.
THE CAROLINA PANTHERS DOMINATE
If you’re still playing post-season fantasy football contests and started Cam Newton you know that the Panthers were 10 points up before your selection ever gave you a reason to cheer. Still, third time’s a charm because Cam hit receiver Corey Brown during the third series of the game and the Panthers appeared to be eager to nail the Arizona Cardinals’ coffin down shut early — in the first quarter, in fact — as the third score in as many series ignited the home crowd and gave them a 17-0 lead heading into only the second quarter.
After a field goal, Ted Ginn Jr. scored on a 22-yard reverse, and if you are a Cardinals fan you began to that “uh-oh” feeling because the Panther defense is not one to come back from easily, but you kept hope because lately the Panthers haven’t closed games well. But down three scores, the Cardinals did not panic. They rode the next possession mostly on the back of David Johnson and he finished a 10-play/79-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown.
Cam Newton answered back with a 1-yard run just before halftime with the help of two Arizona penalties to take a 24-7, then both teams entered the Twilight Zone…which apparently followed the Cardinals from their battle with the Packers. Carson Palmer fumbled on a sack play giving the ball back to the Panthers with great field position. Two plays later, Cam’s pass deep pass was picked off by Patrick Peterson and after taking it the other way for 72 yards to the Panther 22-yard line, the Cardinals had a near-perfect opportunity to close within ten points inside a minute before halftime. However, on Palmer’s first play, his endzone-deep pass to John Brown was also picked off.
In the second half, Carolina wasn’t having any more of the Twilight Zone as they methodically drove 80 yards on 11 plays before settling for a 22-yard field goal. The Cardinals went three-and-out and gave the ball back to the Panthers, who proceeded to drive another 79 yards on 8 plays, capped off by two consecutive runs off 11 and 12 yards, the latter going for a score on a daring and sensational run that ended with Cam’s risky up-and-over landing that nearly costs him a neck injury. At this point you knew it was pretty much over despite Arizona’s 10-play/80 yard scoring drive that followed making the score 34-15 after the successful two-point conversion in the early final quarter.
After only the third Panthers punt of the game, Mario Addison picked off another Palmer pass and that set up yet another score, a 5-yard pass to Devin Funchess. After their successful two-point conversion for a 42-15 lead, things got downright bizarre for Carson as two of his next three passes were also picked off in a way that rookies get picked off in clear panic mode; a next-out defensive play (Luke Kuechly’s 22-Yd interception return for a score) and yet another INT two plays after the kick-off (by Tre Boston) to complete a span of three of four passes being INTs spreading over three series.
IN THE END, ‘IT TASTE LIKE CHICKEN.’
The final score, Panthers 49-15, and that’s a bit sad. It ends the NFC West recent domination of NFC representation in the Super Bowl but more importantly, especially for Cardinals fans, this was the most feel-good season for the state of Arizona since the Kurt Warner days and for the original fans of the Cardinals from the St. Louis era — the fans that never turned away or the ones that returned recently — this, riding on the tails of the Rams returning to Los Angeles, was a double blow. More than that, players like Larry Fitzgerald you want to see retire as at least a one-time champion. And the rough road in which Carson Palmer had to travel, you wanted it for him as well even if you don’t regularly follow the Cards. New fans of coach Bruce Arians could also find themselves feeling sorry for the somewhat lovable darling of offense, but don’t feel that way. It was a valuable learning experience in that Arians will probable seek more trench beef in the off-season.
The Panthers were too much team on a day that saw too many things go their way, some well-deserved of course. It was a day in which they would have also beaten last year’s Patriots. If this day repeats itself in two weeks, it will be a day that depresses Peyton Manning and darkens his possible exit. But for for the supporters of the Arizona Cardinals, it might probably always be a day that signifies it’s not that you lose, but how you lose that hurts most. Rightfully so, this team, for a great deal of the season, looked to be one of the two or three teams to beat. You hate to see a top team not play up to expectations because of injuries, but that’s the nature of the beast. For the second year in a row, the team was hit by at least one major injury that dimmed (doused in my opinion) their realistic hopes with the season-ending Tyrann Mathieu tear. But one can easily envision an over-aggressive Cam Newton running into that same fate next year…or possibly next game. Yet and still, the Red Birds’ appeared to lose their composure and ended up roadkill on a Carolina expressway, and the nature of the beast is clawed and currently covered in glossy black fur…and now craving horse meat.