The Arizona Cardinals lost a lopsided match to the Super Bowl bound Carolina Panthers 15-49. The Panthers proved to be too much for the Cards, who struggled early and often. The team’s performance was one of their worst and the outcome will be one tough pill to swallow for both Cardinals players and fans alike for years to come. Here’s a recap of how the game played out for the Cardinals on each phase of the game:
Throughout the entire first half, the offense relied heavily on the ground attack, relying too much on rookie David Johnson to create some spark. The rush grew stagnant quick and the Panthers’ defense picked up the rhythm enough to stuff nearly every run and only hold their opponents to drastically low 60 rushing yards. Quarterback Carson Palmer had some difficulty passing downfield as he looked shaky all game long with Carolina’s endless pressure. The pressure was enough to cause him to throw four interceptions – including a costly red zone pick — and a fumble. The biggest issue the Cardinals had was their inability to make their third down conversions, which prevented the opportunity to move closer to field goal position and at least put up points to stay competitive. The offense was only allowed a total of 287 yards, which pales in comparison to the 408.3 yards per game average they had throughout the regular season.
The Cardinals defense started melting down early. Carolina receivers were running up and down the field freely after breaking coverages and it caused Cardinals players to get frustrated. Not even ten minutes into the game, we saw Cardinals players like linebacker Markus Golden arguing with a few other disgruntled teammates.
They were beaten all around. Carolina running back Jonathan Stewart was breaking past tacklers and carrying some downfield as the Panthers made their aggressive strides towards the end zone. Cam Newton was untouchable in the pocket, giving him enough time to thrown for big gains to receivers Ted Ginn Jr., Corey Brown and Greg Olsen. These three combined made it all too easy for the canon-armed Newton to throw anywhere on the field. Despite the fact that the Cardinals were blitz-heavy and had tallied 37 total sacks heading into the game, they were only able to get to Newton twice all night — which was the biggest reason why he was able to throw for 335 yards and two touchdowns.
Panthers’ punter Brad Nortman made it seemingly impossible for Cards’ kick returner J.J. Nelson to even try and get some decent field yardage as he kept kicking the ball out back of the end zone. Most of the Cardinals’ drives started off on the 20-yard line which didn’t help the waning Cardinals offense. The punt return team didn’t fare so well either as highlighted by Patrick Peterson’s fumble in the second quarter which only hurt the morale of the Cardinals who at the time trailed 7-17.
All in all, the Cardinals were plagued by turnovers, coughing up the ball seven times throughout the span of the game. The Panthers’ defense dominated the Cardinals offense all game long and drained any form of hope the Cardinals might have had to bounce back. It’ll be a long offseason for the Arizona Cardinals and an even longer ride home as the team’s hope of reaching Super Bowl 50 shattered right before their eyes tonight.