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The Setup
The 11-5-0 Cards had lost two straight (not easy ones) to Seattle and San Francisco to lose a Bye and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Playing without their #1 and #2 quarterbacks (Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton) the Cardinals struggled to put up decent offensive numbers (although backup QB Ryan Lindley did catch fire to start the Niner game only to succumb to a series of mistakes and cool off considerably in the second half). Meanwhile the 7-8-1 Panthers had the weakest record of any NFL division-winner. The week before, they pole-axed an Atlanta club (who had shredded the Cards a few weeks ago) 34 - 3.Since a 31- 13 loss to the Vikes, the Panthers had won four-straight (including close wins over the Bucs and Browns and a 41-10 shellacking of the Saints).

The Lede
Cards run out of mojo in playoff loss to Panthers.

The Bottom Line:
Although being outplayed by Carolina from the very gitgo, it wasn't as if the Cardinals didn't have their opportunities to steal a win from an equally mistake-prone Carolina squad. They had a 14 - 13 lead at halftime and were handed a 2H turnover deep in Panther territory that could have put the Cards within 6 points of the lead. But the Cardinals and their QB Ryan Lindley lacked the resiliancy to bounce back to seize the moment. Say "goodnight", BA.

Game Recap

1st Quarter
  • Cards received. TB on the KO. Cards went 3 & out. Butler's punt was for just 20-yards. Newton pecked his way into field goal range. Card defense tightened. Gano was good from 47. Panteras 3 - Cards 0.

  • TB on the KO. Cards go 3 & out again. This time Butler booms a 28-yard punt. Starting from his own 43, Newton moved his team in 7 plays to the Cardinal 13. On the next play, Jonathan Stuart richocheted off several Cardinal tacklers en route to a Pantera TD. Panteras 10 - Cards 0.

  • TB on the KO (again). A completion to Floyd nets Lindley his very first 1st down. But the Cards eventually have to punt from their own 37. Butler (showing steady improvement) thumps a 33 yard boomer. Bersin muffs the catch and Bethel recovers. Card ball on the Pantera 30. A roughness flag and a 14-yard completion to Fitz puts the ball on the Panther -yard line to end the quarter. 1st Quarter Score: Panteras 10 - Cards 0.

2nd Quarter
  • On the first play of the quarter, Lindley hits Fells up the middle in the back of the end zone for a TD. Panteras 10 - Cards 7.

  • TB on the KO. Newton brings the Panther to the Cardinal 25 (note a 12-yard scramble by Newton and 10 and 18-yard runs by Stewart during the drive), but the drive stalls and Gano is wide left from 43-yards out. Cards take over on their own 33. Lindley gets sacked for minus-8 on the first play from scrimmage. Butler finally nails a 52-foot punt which is downed at the Pantera 17.

  • Despite a 16-yard completion to Olsen, the Panthers fizzle out at their own 49. Nortman's punt is downed at the Cardinal 2 (Note - Field position throughout the entire game was an important though hidden issue). Cards (once again) were held to 3 & out. Butler (once again) got off a feeble punt (this one for 31 yards). Punt was fair caught at the Cardinal 34. But three plays later, Cromartie stepped in front of a Newton pass intended for Cotchery and returned it to the Pantera 37 (where he was tackled by Newton). Four straight running plays were capped by an inside TD run by Grice (Play was ruled a fumble at the goal line recovered by Carolina, but was reversed - i.e. Grice extended the ball past the plane of the goal line). Cards 14 - Panteras 10.

  • 2:50 till halftime. Wittaker returned the KO to the Panther 20. A completion deep to C Brown (Matthieu defending) helped set up a 39-yard Gano FG with 0:05 left on the clock. Cards 14 - Panteras 13.

  • Ginn ran the kickoff back 48 yards but then stepped out of bounds, presumably to give Lindley a shot at a Hail Mary. Lindley's pass (ironically for Ginn) was incomplete.

First Half Score: Cards 14 - Panteras 13.

3rd Quarter
  • Panthers received.TB on the KO. Newton engineered a 14-play (7:31) drive that fizzled at the Cardinal 37. Nortman's punt was fair-caught by Ginn at the Cardinal 8. Cards went 3 & out. Butler (who was nothing if not consistent) punted 31 yards where it was fair caught at the Cardinal 39.

  • Game Changer: On the first play from scrimmage, Newton hit Whittaker on a short screen. Like Stewart early in the game, Whittaker took on the role of "pinball" and bounced his way off a bevy of Cardinal pretend-tacklers for a 39-yard score. Panteras 20 - Cards 14.

  • On the ensuing kickoff, Ginn reached the 16 before he was stripped of the ball. Reddick recovered the fumble and returned it to the Cardinal 3. The Panthers :went for it" on 4th & one and Tolbert lugged it in for a Carolina TD. Panteras 27 - Cards 14.

  • TB on the KO (a stroke of good fortune for the Cards since Ginn couldn't fumble it). Cards (still yet again) went 3 & out. Butler got off an uncharacteristically deep punt (this one for 37-yards). Panthers ball on their own 41. A 34-yard completion to Dickson helped move the Panteras to the Cardinal 39, where a holding flag moved them back to the Cardinal 49 as the quarter ended.

Third Quarter Score: Panteras 27 - Cards 14.

4th Quarter
  • Three plays later, Nortman punted from the Cardinal 40 into the end zone. Cards took over at their own 20 and (guess what)? They went 3 & out. (A minus-6-yard sack by Short contributed to the mayhem). Butler got off a historic 43-yard punt which was fair caught at the Carolina 29.

  • Another Game Changer - Two plays later, Newton all but handed the Cardinals an entree back unto the football game when he was sacked by Acho (who hit his passing arm before it went forward). Newton then batted the loose ball forward where it was recovered by Rashad Johnson) Cardinal ball on the Carolina 8 ("this far" from a TD that would make it a 27-21 football game). But on the very next play, Ryan Lindley tried to force a pass to Larry Fitzgerald. It was intercepted by Kuechly. You could hear the air rush out of the Cardinal squad with a great big "whoooosh").

  • Panther ball at their own 5-yard line. They moved to the Cardinal 44 before punting. (Lots of camera-footage on the TV screen showing Newton and other Carolina players strutting around in all their glory).

  • Punt was fair caught at the Cardinal 13 with 7:45 left. Two consecutive sacks of Lindley (for minus9 and minus-8) forced Butler to punt from his own 14. The 38-yard punt was fair caught by Bersin. 5:12 left. Panthers ran three straight times and went 3 & out. Punt attempt was fumbled and the ball turned over to the Cards at Pantera 47. But three plays later, Lindley (once again) tried to force it to Fitz and got picked odd. Carolina ball at their own 9 with 1:54 left. They took a safety on a 4th & 11 with 0:03 on the clock to narrow the score to Carolina 27 - Cards 16.

  • On the final play of the game, the Cards went into full "Harlem Globetrotter lateral the ball around" mode which wound up with John Brown running out of bounds at the Cardinal 9. Twenty-yard loss on the play resulted in the Cards being credited with a record low number of yards gained in a playoff game. Game (& season) over.

Final Score: Carolina 27 - Cards 16.

Game Stats

  • Passing Efficiency: Lindley was 16 for 28 yards, 1TD's and two interceptions.

  • Run Game: Cards ran the ball 15 times for 27 yards.

  • Receiving: Brown caught 4, Fitz 3 and Carlson (who also had a key 3rd down drop that kept us deep in our own territory) 3.
  • Defense: Cards gave up 188 yards on the ground and 198 thru the air.

  • Cardinal Run/Pass Ratio: 15 runs/28 passes.

  • Sacks: Lindley was sacked 4 times. (We sacked Newton (once by Acho).

  • Leading Cardinal "Tacklers": R Johnson 8, Jefferson 7, Acho 7, Bucannon 6, D Williams 6

  • Field Goals: None tried/none made.

  • Turnover Ratio: (Can you believe it?) Zero. Lindley was picked off twice and we lost a fumble. (Carolina gave away one interception an lost 2 fumbles).

  • Penalties: 7 for 38 yards (Panthers were flagged 8 times for 80).

  • 3rd Down Efficiency: 3 for 12(25%). Panthers were 5 for 15 (33%)

  • Time of Possession: Us - 22:54/Them - 37:06

Bright Spots

  • Bright spots? Few and far,

  • Well...Bethel had a pretty good game.

  • Acho came up big at crunch time (although it went for naught).

  • Cro (especially his pick).

The Dark Side

  • I don't enjoy issuing critical comments when careers are at stake, but: I devoutly wish that BA and Steve Keim would release Ryan Kindley if only because it would remove any future temptation to ever play him again.

  • Patrick Peterson has all the raw physical talent you could ask for - but he's not 100% shutdown-effective and therefore just a teeny bit overrated.

  • While we're talking about "overrated" - I love Bruce Arians and I love Steve Keim, but both of them are mere mortals - Injuries notwithstanding, BA and SK left us without a #3 QB we could win with and we were stuck with Taylor and K Williams and questionable run blockers to lug the leather late in the season.

  • Our defensive secondary received wake-up calls about sloppy tackling in the Seattle and Niner games. Unfortunately, they failed to "wake up" vs. the Panthers. The two TD runs (by Stewart and Whittaker) represent textbook footage of what not to do when an opposing RB gets past the LOS.

    Admittedly, it's easy to Monday Morning QB the coaches after a bitter defeat, but "it is what it is" - BA's decision to "play Lindley" and "go conservative" with the play-calling didn't work out so well. (I'd have rather he started Logan Thomas, developed an aggressive offensive game plan and risked going down in flames rather than suffer "death by a thousand cuts."
Last Word:
It was a helluva ride while it lasted, but I have a hard time swallowing the "well, they may have lost but they sure overcame a lot of hurdles" back-handed comments coming out of the national media. Memo to BA and Steve Keim - You might have done good but you are competing in fast company. Although you put together a formidable defense with smoke, mirrors and duct tape, you failed to give the team enough competent depth at QB and RB (& some might make a case for) the O-line. I love you guys (I love this team) and feel you've got what it takes to be a great coach and GM - but you came up short - this is a brutal business. You'll have to up your game a notch or two if you want to reach the promised land. Focus now shifts to "identifying college talent" that can put us over the top. Sic 'em!
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Copyright 1996 Gollin & Associates. Last modified: 11/26/2012