In a game where a game where one team featured a 3rd string quarterback, and the other a sub .500% record, the expectations were not high. And those expectations became reality, almost from the start.
The scoring started after a bad punt by Arizona gave Carolina good field position. One first down later, the drive resulted in a field goal. One drive later, another short punt created the chance for the Panthers to move the ball into the red zone, where Jonathan Stewart was able to punch it in from 12 yards out to make the score 10-0.
The Cardinals had another poor effort on offense, but then they caught a break. Drew Butler kicked his third straight short punt, but the Panthers returner dropped to his knees and made contact with the ball, which allowed the Cardinals to recover the ball. Several plays later, including a questionable roughing the passer penalty on 3rd down, the Cardinals scored a touchdown pass from Ryan Lindley to Darren Fells to bring the score to 10-7.
The 2nd quarter opened up with Carolina moving the ball down the field following the kickoff, including some impressive running by the Panthers. Graham Gano then pushed a 43 yard field goal to the left. A few drives later, another dreadful punt by Butler gave the Panthers the ball at the 39 yard line, but then Cam Newton threw a pick which was returned to the Panthers 17 yard line. Shortly after, Marion Grice was able to punch the ball in, but not before a review to overturn the call of a fumble that was made on the field to make the score 14-10 Arizona. In the two minute drill, Cam Newton was able to march the Panthers down the field for a 39 yard field goal, making the score 14-13.
To start the second half, Carolina took the ball, and thanks to a couple of Cam Newton scrambles on consecutive 3rd and longs, were able to get past midfield, where the Panthers punted to the Cardinals offense, which only had 65 yards of total offense at the time. Following the 5th punt of the day that went less than 35 yards by Drew Butler, the Panthers used the very next play to allow a quick screen pass to Fozzy Whittaker to turn into an impressive run of 43 yards for the go-ahead touchdown to make it 20-14.
On the sidelines, the Panthers players were jumping up and down, enticing their teammates. On the other side, the Cardinals players were sitting down, hanging their heads. Keeping with the theme, the proceeding kickoff was fumbled by Ted Ginn Jr., and Carolina recovered at the three yard line. After forcing a 3rd down incompletion, the refs flagged a Cardinals defensive back for what was an uncatchable ball, giving a first down on the “defensive pass interference”. The next play, Cam Newton dumped it off to Mike Tolbert in the flat for an easy score to make it 27-14, instead of the score that should have been 23-14.
After a 3rd quarter in which the Cardinals totaled -3 yards of total offense, including a fumble, they opened the 4th quarter with a near pick, sack, and a pass that was just short of the first down, resulting in a three and out. The next drive, the Cardinals forced a fumble on Newton, returning it to the 14 yard line. The very next play, I kid you not, Ryan Lindley threw an interception right into the gut of Luke Kuechly, all but ending this game.
Jonathan Stewart rushing yards today: 116 Cardinals total yards today: 70
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 4, 2015
But then there was hope! The Panthers’ punter dropped the ball on the punt, giving the Cardinals good field position. Lindley completed their longest play of the game, and was moving the ball. When they got to the red zone, Lindley threw a pass that was tipped and intercepted in the end zone, ending the game like everyone thought it would.
Cardinals got more yards on that play than they had all half — NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) January 4, 2015
Cardinals 2nd-half drives: Punt Fumble lost Punt Punt Interception Punt Interception
— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) January 4, 2015
This was a painful game to watch for anyone other than Panthers fans, and even then I can’t say that confidently. The final score was 27-16, as Carolina took a safety to run more time off the clock, but when it comes down to numbers, that was as close as it gets. I can’t convey all of the stats through this article, but here is a sample:
- 1st Downs – Arizona: 8 Carolina: 25
- Total Yards – Arizona: 77 Carolina: 387
- Time of Possession – Arizona: 22:53 Carolina: 37:07
- Rushing Yards – Arizona: 27 Carolina: 188
Cardinals finished with 77 total yards, fewer than any team in NFL playoff history has ever had.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) January 4, 2015
Hopefully, for the NFL’s sake, tonight’s game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens will provide a better showing than this game. Carolina will play the Seahawks if the Dallas Cowboys win tomorrow, or they will play the Green Bay Packers if the Detroit Lions win tomorrow.
By: Adam Bogdan – @PatriotsInform