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The Setup
Sunday evening game in Carolina. East Coast blizzard left Charlotte encased in ice. Flights were cancelled in and out of the area. IQestionable whether any Arizona-based Cardinal fans could make the trip.

Panthers were talked about in super-hero rhetoric - Cam Newton was a large physical strong-armed passer who could run. Jonathon Stewart was the second coming of Marshawn Lynch. Keuchly and Brown were All Pro linebackers. Ditto Josh Norman at CB.

The hype surrounding the Cards was almost equally over the top, but there were more than a few "yeah-buts" from the media hordes. Carson Palmer was up for MVP. Fitz a shoe-in for HOF. The deep, talented receiving corps might prove too much for a shallow Panther secondary. But: Palmer had been making poor passing decisions in recent games. The Cards couldn't run against Seattle or GB. Would Carolina try to physically beat up/wear down Bucannon (a MLB in a safety's body)?

The Lede
Cards Blown Out by Panthers 49 - 15.

The Bottom Line:
Hey Cards: No Super Bowl for You!

Carolina was predictable - playing to expections in all facets of the game. Cards "played down" to the level most of us feared.

Carolina opened up an early 10 point lead, and it already was beginning to look like "Blow Out City", but the Cards seemed to regain their sea-legs and looked as if they might launch a comeback midway in the second quarter only have their effort derailed by a Peterson muffed punt. Cards continued to fall apart at the seams later in the second half, setting a record for the number of turnovers-allowed with 7. (Turnovers were equal-opportunity: 4 interceptions/3 fumbles).

Cam Newton did all but don a cape - he threw with accuracy, made good decisions and "ran tough." His counterpart, Carson Palmer, threw with inconsistent accuracy, seemed rattled by the Carolina pass rush and he tried to force passes into tight windows but without elite zip. His OL failed to give him the extra half-second he needed to deliver the ball in the right places at the right times. The Cardinal secondary gave way too much cushion to Carolina receivers. Cardinal open field tacklers looked like cardboard cutouts for Panther ballcarriers run around and through at will.


Game Recap

1st Quarter
  • Cards received. TB on the KO. Three & out. (BA dialed up runs on first two plays). Ginn returned punt to the Panther 34. Carolina made it to the Card 27 where they settled for a 45-yard Gano FG. Key plays: To C Brown +14; To Ginn +13. Panteras 3 - Cards 0.

    TB on the KO. Massie flagged for false start on 1st play. Cards couldn't make it past their own 29. Punt returned 32 yards by Ginn (Hey BA: This is hardly exploding out of the gate).Panthers ball on Card 49. Carolina managed to reach the Cardinal 22, where Ginn took a reverse end-around 22-yards around, through and over would-be tacklers for a TD. Panteras 10 - Cards 0.

    TB on the KO.After short completions to John Brown and Fitz, Cards stalled at their own 45. Punt fair caught by Ginn at the Carolina 12. Three plays later, Newton hit C Brown deep left for an 86-yard TD. Panteras 17 - Cards 0.

    0:49 left in the quarter. TB on the KO. Cards ran off 2 plays to end the quarter.

    1st Quarter Score: Panteras 17 - Cards 0.

2nd Quarter
  • Johnson gained 23 yards on a sweeep around RE to reach the Pantera 37, but it all went for naught 3 plays later when Short sacked Palmer whose fumble was recovered by Keuchly. Panthers took over on their own 38.
  • Cards held Panteras to 3 & out. Punt returned to the Card 21. Palmer finally got the offense's act together - leading the Cards on a 10-play drive capped by a one-yard TD run up the middle by D Johnson. Key plays: To Nelson +15; D Johnson off RT for +15. To Fells +15. Panteras 17 - Cards 7.
  • TB on the KO. Cards held Carolina to 3 & out and appeared to be back in it; but Peterson tried to run under a punt along the sidelines and muffed it. Pantera ball on the Card 46. Stewart ran up the middle for +17 and then up the middle again for +23. With the ball on the Card one, Newton went up and over the middle for a +1 yard TD. Panteras 24 - Cards 7.

    TB on the KO. On the first play from scrimmage, Palmer got sacked, fumbled and surrendered the ball (again) at the Card 31. But two plays later, Peterson intercepted a pass for Dickson and returned it 72 yards to the Pantera 22. But on the first play from scrimmage, Palmer threw an interception over the middle in the end zone. Touchback. 0:49 left till halftime. Two knees by Newton. Half over.


    First Half Score: Panteras 24 - Cards 7.

3rd Quarter
  • Carolina received - returned to the Panther 17. Newton QB'd an 11-play drive which ended at the Cardinal 3 with a 21-yard Gano FG. Panteras 27 - Cardinals 7.

    TB on the KO. Cards held to 3 & out. Fair catch Panther 21. Newton's pass for Ginn just missed being picked off by a leaping Jerrod Powers and picked up +39 yards. A Newton pass for Funchess picked up another 16-yards. After Newton circled RE for +11 yards, he repeated around RE for +12 and a TD. Panteras 34 - Cardinals 7.

    TB on the KO. Cards managed to reach the Panther 37 mainly with short passes to reach the end of the third quarter.

    Third Quarter Score: Panteras 34 - Cardinals 7.

4th Quarter
  • Cards reached the Pantera 21 where Palmer hit Fells deep middle for a TD.Two-pointer (Nelson around LE) was good. Panteras 34 - Cardinals 15.

    (Note - Only 19 points down with 14:16 to play - we were still hoping for a miracle).

    TB on the KO. Cards held Panthers to 3 & out. Fair catch: Card 36. Cards moved into Panther territory to the 44 yard line where Palmer's pass for John Brown was picked off by Coleman. Panther ball on their own 16 with 11:38 stll left. A deep pass to Olsen (who blew by Bethel) for 54 yards and a 14-yard run up the middle by Newton setup a 5-yard TD pass to Funchess. Two-pointer was good. Panteras 42 - Cardinals 15.

    KO (net holding flag on Clemons) gave Cards the ball at their own 12 with 5:26 left. On the first play fron scrimmage, Palmer's pass for John Brown was picked off by Keuchly and returned 22-yards for a TD. Panteras 49 - Cardinals 15.

    KO returned to the Card 21. Two plays later, Palmer's pass for Floyd over the middle was intercepted by Boston. Panther ball on the Card 40. Four plays and a kneel by Newton followed by 5 Plays and end of game.

    Final Score:Panteras 49 - Cardinals 15.


Game Stats.

  • Passing: Palmer was 23 for 40(235 yards, 1 TD and 4 picks).Newton was 19 for 28 for 335 yards with 2 TD's and 1 pick.

    Takeaways: Cards minus-7. Palmer was picked off four times; Stanton twice. Cards fumbled 3 times.

  • Rushing: Johnson gained 60 yards on 15 carries (1 TD). (Stewartl gained 83 on 19 carries). Newton gained 47 yards on 10 carries (2 TD's). Ginn only carried once - for 22 yards but also gained a TD.
  • Receiving: D Johnson led the Cards with 68 yards on 9 catches. Fitz caught 4 for 30 yards. Fells caught three (one TD).

  • Cardinal Run/Pass Ratio: . (Runs: 16/Pass: 41). Panther Run/Pass Ratio: 37/28).

  • Jefferson led the Cards with 10 tackles. Bucannon was next with 8. Golden had 7.

  • Sacks - Cards had1 (Stinson). Carolina sacked Palmer 3 times (he fumbled away twice).

    Situational Efficiency: Cards converted 3 of 10 third downs (30%). Carolina was 8 of 14 (57%). Cards were 1 of 1 for 100% in red zone efficiency. Carolina was 3 for 4 (75%)

    Penalties: Cards were penalized 8 times for 51 yards/ Carolina was penalized 5 times for 45 yards. .

    Time of Possession: Cards 23:21 - Panthers 36:39.

Bright Spots

  • D Johnson led the Cards in receptions and gained 60 ground yards against a tough Carolina defense.

The Dark Side

  • Palmer was personally responsible for 6 of 7 Cardinal turnovers.
  • We got pushed around on both sides of the ball.

    Peterson may have a boat load of talent but he's not money on every play. (Fumble was inexcusable).

    Our open field tackling on a few scoring plays was abysmal.

    At least a couple of times, we committed the same kind of coverage lapses as we did non the Green Bay Hail Mary the week before.

  • If we have a spy on Newton, how does he rush 10 times for 7 yards and 2 TD's?
  • Is it possible that Panthers and other teams have been stealing our signals? (It did seem as though they were reading our minds).

Last Word:
As we neared the playoffs, entered the playoffs and beat Green Bay, the Cardinals received a surprising amount of love from members of the football media. As Cardinal fans, we enjoyed the high fives from workers at our local NJ ShopRite who spotted our AZ Cardinal baseball cap and wished us good luck. (Frankly, we were a little bit nervous about the size of the positive vibe - because we weren't sure if it was fully deserved and actually might jinx the team).

At least, however, we figured that, if we gave the Panthers a run for their money, we'd still receive those high-fives at ShopRite well into the offseason and preseason. Well, we didn't give them a run for their money and will go down in history as that fumbling, bumbling (same old Cardinals) team that committed a record 7 turnovers and set countless other records committed by a blow-outee.

The thumping by the Panthers came as somewhat of a shock (we were primed to accept that they might be better than we were, but didn't anticipate the teams total collapse by games' end. No doubt there will be overreaction by the pundits. I hope that, instead of the all-to-familiar "fire the coach" "cut 'em all" or "sell the team" bleats of outrage, cooler heads will objectively determine "what went wrong" and what we can do about it? Here's what I think:

When you handicap all 32 teams, the Cardinals still fall within the Top 8 (To Carolina, Denver, New England and the Cards, you might want to throw in PIttsburgh, Seattle, KC and Cincy). So what's preventing us from raising our play from #5 - #8 into the Top 2 or 3?

Keeping things on a positive note: (1) The team lacks consistency throughout the lineup (This isn't to say that, throughout the roster, our players cannot play at a high level - the problem is that "occasional lapses" happen too frequently (Whether it be Carson Palmer throwing a balloon into a tight window or Rashad Johnson missing an open field tackle or a LB getting sucked in on a reverse). This is as much a coaching issue as it is a roster issue. (2) the team cannot afford to get rattled in tough situations. When things went wrong, too many players tried to turn into super-heros instead of doing their jobs. The defense blew too many coverages yesterday to be considered a playoff team. (3) we've been getting it done with duct-tape across the defensive roster - we still are not big enough or tough enough on both the O-line and D-line, our LB's collectively, lacked a half-step and wore down and our secondary - PP21 included - must be considered overrated. (4) (& we're not sure about this) during the latter part of the season, it seemed as if other teams (like Seattle, GB and Carolina) improved more than we did. Were we too content to rest on our laurels? Should we coach-up our players better and more proactively?

Some of our weaknesses can be overcome via personnel moves (free agency or the draft). Others through better coaching. And where we can't fix them, the Cardinal staff will have to motor-on (i.e. more duct-tape and calls to AARP), but as we've seen, some of those weaknesses can still be exposed by better football teams).

The shame in all this is that we were oh so close, but in retrospect, "oh so far."

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Copyright 1996 Gollin & Associates. Last modified: 11/26/2012