Okay, we're late getting this story out because we spent Monday sleeping off our hangover from drinking ourselves numb after the Arizona Cardinals stunk up the Deep South Sunday night.
Damn, we don't know what football team played against the Carolina Panthers in the NFC Championship in Charlotte, because it certainly wasn't the Arizona Cardinals we'd come to know and love. It couldn't have been the team we cheered on during a 13-3 dream regular season or during an epic playoff win over the Green Bay Packers January 17.
We're saying, there's no doubt that the Cardinals we saw Sunday sucked — but let's make one thing clear: Sweet Caroline-thieving Carolina fans, we still hate your team. Even more now (is Cam Newton even an Earthling?); in fact, we pray that Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning takes the Panthers apart in Super Bowl 50.
Many think the NFC Championship blowout is the fault of Arizona QB Carson Palmer, who looked like a goat in headlights from the start of the game to its finish, but there's plenty of blame to go around:
To be sure, Palmer had six turnovers and failed to land a slew of passes, but Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians made scads of awful calls, cornerback Patrick Peterson screwed up a punt return and derailed a comeback attempt by his team, saintly Larry Fitzgerald dropped the ball twice...
And Arizona’s defensive line, the fifth-best in the NFL during the regular season, didn't show up.
Don't even get us started on the offensive line, which allowed Palmer to spend much of the game on his back.
The Panthers took full advantage of every bonehead mistake. They're damn good, but they're not that good.
There were glimmers of hope, of course, like after Arizona scored its first touchdown in the second quarter to cut Carolina’s lead to 17-7 or when Peterson intercepted a Newton pass shortly thereafter. But for every step forward, the team took three steps back. Here are the Cardinals' self-inflicted wounds that killed our Super Bowl dreams:
6. Justin Bethel’s weak tackle attempt.
Revenge, as they say, can be sweet. Just ask Panthers wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr., who got plenty of payback against Arizona, making the Cardinals front office look like fools for cutting him last spring. And during one of his many highlights during the championship game, Ginn scored the Panthers’ first touchdown after a zig-zagging 22-yard rush around the field and tossing aside a weak tackle attempt by Justin Bethel.
Who knows? Had the cornerback successfully brought Ginn down, it might’ve slowed Carolina’s momentum in the early going.
5. Bruce Arians' weird wildcat call.
It seemed as though Coach Arians tried to throw everything at the Panthers in an attempt to get past their stifling defense. Case in point: when Arians pulled out a wildcat play in the first quarter (in this case, the center snapped to a running back), something rarely used by the team this season, followed by a reversal to Larry Fitzgerald with the option of having the wide receiver toss it down field. The result? An incomplete pass from Fitz to John Brown. Ugh!
Sorry, Bruce. We know you’re in love with the whole “no risk it, no biscuit” philosophy (cute), but trick plays weren’t going to cut it against the Carolina defense.
4. Larry Fitzgerald’s dropped passes.
We’re big fans of Larry Fitzgerald, who had a phenomenal 2015 and was nothing but clutch in last week’s spectacular defeat of the Green Bay Packers. His efforts during this debacle, however, were dismal. As much as it pains us to lay into the wide receiver, particularly after his emotion-filled apologies in post-game interviews, Fitzgerald wound up with zero yards.
Plus, after dropping a total of 24 passes during his 12 years in the NFL, including just one this regular season, he allowed the football to slip from his grasp twice on Sunday, the first time during the third quarter in a play that would’ve been a first down. This allowed the Panthers to get the ball yet again and push the score to 34-7 on their next drive.
3. Rashad Johnson's missed tackle.
Cam Newton and the rest of Carolina’s offense were nigh unstoppable throughout most of the game, particularly in the early going. Arizona’s defense was anything but effective against the Panthers, including many a missed tackle by the Cardinals. To wit: safety Rashad Johnson could’ve, would’ve, and should’ve taken down Philly Brown after the Carolina receiver nabbed a midfield catch at the end of the first quarter. Johnson attempt failed, allowing Brown to make an 86-yard touchdown dash that put the Panthers up 17 zip.
Patrick Peterson fumbles the punt return. pic.twitter.com/89emzB895b— ?arcusD (@_MarcusD_) January 25, 2016
2. Patrick Peterson’s muffed punt return.
After getting stifled and smothered by Carolina’s ace defensive line for most of the first half, the Cardinals finally started to wake from its slumber in the second quarter and looked like they had some mojo. Arizona’s offense got momentum and put together a touchdown drive to make things 17-7, followed by its defense finding its mojo and forcing the Panthers to go three-and-out.
Then Patrick Peterson had to ruin it all by muffling the ensuing punt. The Cardinals cornerback and return specialist was attempting to make an aggressive play with a running catch, only to have the ball bounce off his arm and onto the field. Carolina recovered at the 46-yard line, naturally, allowing Newton’s epic Superman-like touchdown six plays later to go up 34-7. Peterson would redeem himself with a fantastic interception and 72-yard run just before halftime, which Palmer wound up squandering with a regrettable throw that was picked off by Kurt Coleman. And on that subject…
Kurt Coleman interception on Carson Palmer. pic.twitter.com/pcdnVJwuXA— ?arcusD (@_MarcusD_) January 25, 2016
1. Carson Palmer’s game-killing interception.
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Arizona’s QB might want to hit up a local bakery for a job, considering how much he loved dishing up turnovers Sunday.
Simply put, Palmer was just awful. He made bad choices, overthrew receivers, and desperately tried to force miracles that weren’t going to save the game, the season, or his ass. Perhaps it was jitters, despite his big win last week, over whether he can cut it in the playoffs. It might’ve been the dislocated finger on his throwing hand, an injury he sustained in December.
Whatever, Palmer choked. Hard.
His most heartbreaking throw came at the end of the second quarter following Peterson’s fantastic interception. With 56 seconds left and the chance for Arizona end the half with a TD (and thus cut Carolina’s lead to 10), Palmer went for a long pass downfield to wide-out John Brown instead of short pass to Fitz. Didn't work. Carolina snatched the ball out of the air and snuffed out any comeback. Whatever confidence Palmer had left at that point was destroyed.