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Coming off a 38 - 0 thrashing of the Giants followed by a Bye Week, Carolina was one of those NFL "flavor of the month" teams. But despite the overwhelming win last time out, they were still only 1 & 2, having lost a nail-biter to the Seahawks (12 - 7) and a one-pointer to the Bills (24 - 23).
The Cardinals survived a poor first half and managed to eke out a pitchers' deal with the Tampa Bay Bucs. They emerged with a road win and a .500 record as they returned home to go up against Cam Newton and the Panteras
Playmaking Defense/Second Half Heroics Lead Cards to Win Over Panthers
The Bottom Line:
The Game Thread log on the Arizona Sportsfan website - condensed to one line - can best be described as "Bitch, Bitch, Bitch, Bitch, Bitch, Bitch, Bitch, Bitch, Yay!"
Cards wore their Black unis (which looked all the more spiffy wnen paired with the bright pink of Breast Cancer Awareness complimentary apparel. Cards were getting a lot of late love from the pundits. One major exception: anncr Tim Ryan, who carried on an incessant love-fest with the Panthers for the entire game.
The game itself can best be described as "a monumental zoo" (full of miscues and missed opportunities) in the first half, with the defense, once again, keeping us in contention in the first half and then propelling us to victory with big plays in the second half. One difference between the first half of this game and first half of the TB game was that - whereas the Bucco game carried with it a feeling of imminent doom, it felt like, despite all our miscues, we had a fighting chance of beating the Panthers). Our 7 even sacks (especially of a QB as big and physical as Cam Newton) wasn't exactly chopped liver and the return of DWash to pair up with Karlos Dansby inside gives us a physical presence unrivalled by any team save maybe (gulp!) the Niners with Willis and Bowman.
Panthers deferred. Cards received. TB on the KO. A 19-yard completion to Fitz helped move us to the Carolina 42, where Palmer, on a flea-flicker, threw deep to Floyd in the endzone, but Lester outmuscled the Cardinal receiver and came down with the interception. Newton connected with 5 straight short passes for +16, +12, +4, +25 and +13 yards to reach the Cardinal 4. The drive fizzled and Gano was forced to kick a 22-yard FG. Panthers 3 - Cards 0.
TB on the KO. Cards managed to move to their own 44 before an illegal formation penalty derailed their drive and Zastudil punted from his own 40. Punt was fair caught by Ginn at the Pantera 12. A roughing the passer flag on Dansby helped Carolina move to the Cardinal 48, but on the 6th play of the possession, Dansby sacked Newton for minus-9. After a 14-yard completion to Ginn, the quarter ended with Carolina's ball on the Cardinal 29. First Quarter Score: Panthers 3 - Cards 0.
On the first play of the quarter, Dansby sacked Newton again - this time for minus-11. Nortman's punt rolled into the end zone for a TB. The two teams exchanged 3 & outs (with Palmer sacked once for minus-8 and Newton sacked once - by Mathieu - for minus-10. But . the Cards (with Zastudil's help) won the field position battle. Cards' ball on the Pantera 46. A deep seam pass to Floyd put us on the Carolina 19, but a holding penalty on Colledge helped kill the drive and Feely kicked a 42-yarder. Panthers 3 - Cards 3.
TB on the KO. Newton moved the Carolina offense to the Cardinal 15-yard line with the following 10-play yardage sequence: Inc., +9, +8, +19, +9, +11, +9, +0, +0, Inc; the final play of the drive being an incompletion when Rivera decided unsuccessfully to "go for it" on 4th & one. Potentially a huge monmentum-flipper. Cards' ball on their own 15 with 2:12 til half-time. But on the first play of the series, Palmer got sacked for minus-7 and the Cards went 3 & out. Panthers got the ball back on their own 30 with 1:40 still on the clock. A 32-yard completion to Ginn picked up 38 in chunk yardage, but 2 plays later, Newton's pass for Smith was intercepted by Patrick Peterson. The Cards - helped by a15-yard pass & run play to Ellington - managed to move from their own 44 to the Carolina 23, but Palmer's pass for Fitz was intercepted in the end zone.
0:32 still on the clock. Carolina ball on its own twenty. Tolbert ran off tackle for +20, Newton hit LaFell for +13 and then Olsen for +24 before throwing an incompletion to LaFell with 0:07 on the clock. Gano's 41-yard FG was nullified by a penalty, but his second attempt - a 51-yarder from the Cardinal 33 was good at the gun. The momentum had once again shifted. Halftime Score: Panthers 6 - Cards 3.
Ginn returned the KO to the Pantera 20. On the 8th play of the possession,Newton was sacked by DWash for minus-5 and they punted from their own 42 to the Cardinal 15. This is where the Cardinals began to take over: Palmer led the Cardinals on a 10 play drive (which used 5:35 worth of clock-time) before Mendenhall ran it in from a yard out. 7 of the 10 plays were running plays highlighted by an Ellington run around left-end for +26 yards.Cards 10 - Carolina 6.
TB on the KO but a penalty pinned Carolina back at its own 10. An offensive pass interference penalty pushed them back to their own 5, where Calais Campbell sacked Newton in the end zone for a safety. Cards 12 - Carolina 6.
Peterson returned the free kick to his own 36, but 5 plays later, Palmer was picked off by Keuchly and returned to the Cardinal 29. (Hey Carson, it's still 11 weeks before Christmas)!!! Pantera moved to the Cardinal 11 (3rd & 3) as the quarter ended. Third Quarter Score: Cards 12 - Carolina 6.
On the first play of the quarter, Newton's pass for steve Smith was picked off by Daryl Washington and returned 41-yards to midfield. But Cards wenr 3 & out. Bethel downed the punt at the Carolina 6. They managed to move to their own 22, but DWash (aka "Superman") sacked Newton for minus-2 and the Panteras were forced to punt. Nortman's 63-yard punt was returned 10-yards by PP21. 1st & 10 on the Cardinal 27 with 10:01 left to play. Palmer then led his offense on an 11-play 41-yard drive that consumed 6:23 worth of clocktime and resulted in a 50-yard Feely FG that came close to icing it. Cards 15 - Carolina 6.
3:38 on the clock. Ginn returned the KO to the Carolina 31. Newton moved his team in 4 plays to the Cardinal 40. But on the next play, Calais Campbell sacked Newton for minus-7 yards, his fumble was picked off in mid-air by Cason and returned 43 yards to the Carolina 9 with 2:28 still left to play.
Three plays later, Palmer hit Dray for a 7-yard score.Cards 22 - Carolina 6.
TB on the KO. On the fifth play of the Carolina series, Newton's pass over the middle was intercepted by Karlos Dansby. Three knees; game over. Final Score: Cards 22 - Carolina 6.
Palmer threw 19 completions in 28 attempts for 175 yards, 1 TD and 3 interceptions.
28 of our 58 total offensive plays were running plays.
We gained 90 yards rushing and held Carolina to 95.
Mendenhall carried 17 times for for 43 yards. Ellington gained 52 yards in 7 attempts.
Total Cardinal team net passing yards were 160 (vs. 258 for Carolina)
We only gave up just two sacks (in Sowell's debut).
Floyd led the team with 5 catches followed by Ellington with 4.
Palmer's 3 interceptions accounted for all three of our turnovers..
Cards sacked Newton 7 times Campbell, Dansby and Washington were each credited with 2. (Mathieu with 1).
DWash led the Cards with 9 tackles, followed by Dansby (8) and Mathieu (5) and Bell (5).
Dansby, Washington and Peterson each had one interception.
Cason recovered a fumble.
Cards hit with just 3 penalties.
Third Down Efficiency was an improvement at 4 for 12.
We lost Time of Possession: 28:56 to 31:04
The defense shut 'em down in the 2nd half again. (Halftime adjustments)?
We contained Newton.
Only 2 sacks in Sowell's debut.
The 7 sacks and 3 picks by our defense
The Zastudil and Bethel dynamic duo on punts/punt coverage.
The Dansby and Washington ILB tandem playmakers.
Powers and other CB's made plays on the ball with better technique more consistently.
Greater focus on the ground game in the 2H helped our overall offense (& made the clock our friend).
Two long sustained drives: (One near the start of the 2H for 10 plays and 5:35); the other in the 4Q for 11 plays that drained 6:23 off the clock and left Carolina with just 3:38 left to work with.
Just 3 penalties.
Ta'amatu gives us a solid backup space-eating presence in rotation with Dumpster Dan.
Improved 3rd down conversion rate.
The Dark Side
The three picks by Palmer. (The first was more due to Floyd's not fighting hard enough for the ball, but the other two seemed to be due to Carson's not seeing where he was throwing.
We're way too slow coming out of the box early in games - both offensively and defensively.
Occasionally, our left-side edge guy (either DE or OLB) would get sucked in and let Newton get outside contain.
We still have problems covering TE's (Olsen had 5 grabs).
We're 3 & 2 but face having to face SF and Seattle within a 4-day (Sun. - Thurs.) period. To have any chance of beating them, we cannot afford to bring our "A" Game for only 30:00 of each 60:00 contest. It's exciting to watch our defense make huge plays to put away games in the second half, but we're playing with fire and eventually it will catch up with us.
Biggest keys to success looking forward are (barring injuries) how much our youngsters (especially Sowell) continue to develop to a point where we don't have to wonder whether or not they'll deliver and can feel secure they can and will get the job done. Our next game vs. SF will be a beast of a game. Onward!