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Cardinals vs. Panther final score: Arizona sets dubious record in 27-16 playoff loss

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Cardinals offense was beaten up on all day as third string Ryan Lindley strugged against a stout Carolina defense. The loss ends the Cardinals season after a fast 9-1 start and a 2-4 finish.

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Normally at this point I would feel like being a huge negative nancy but there is no point. The Cardinals were on the road against a good defense with a third string QB at the helm. They fought hard all season but were unable to overcome the injury to the most important position on the team, QB. Without a QB it’s hard to beat anyone in the NFL, even if you have the top defense in the NFL. Well the Cardinals defense lost its way at the end and despite some good effort and a hard fight they gave up too many big plays despite making a few of their own. And that is football in a nutshell, who makes more plays.

Cardinal’s fans shouldn't feel sorry for themselves or the team. The team played hard but injuries beat the best team’s down.

I’ll say this to all fans as I said to Joe on the game thread, Cardinals fans are the ultimate optimists. Despite everything that has happened you all still believe in the team. To be that kind of person is a special trait. It means you’re not a quitter. It means you have what it takes to watch a team collapsing in front of your eyes to the bitter end. Bandwagon fans don’t do that, they cut and run at the first sign of weakness but Cardinals fans don’t. Grit, my friends. You all have it.

First Quarter

Losing the toss Arizona was given the option to start with the ball and decided to do so. In a much anticipated third start for Ryan Lindley it started ugly with a quick three-and-out. Arizona was unable to move the ball and was unable to convert on a third and eight pass to FB/RB Robert Hughes.

Punting the ball special teams broke down givdding Carolina a huge return of 20 yards, putting the ball into Arizona territory. With such a horrendous start an ominous feeling quickly crept in but the defense showed up and was able to hold Carolina to a field goal after gaining 19 yards on seven plays. 3 – 0 Panthers

The offense came out again and again was unable to get a first down, getting nine yards. Again Arizona punted and again Carolina started with the ball on Arizona’s side of the field. Carolina took advantage this time, moving the ball through several short passes before Jonathon Stewart broke free for a 13 yard TD putting the Panthers up 10 - 0.

Again Arizona came out onto the field and again they were unable to move the ball, this time getting a first down but not much more. However luck was on Arizona’s side, on the punt Carolina’s return man muffed the punt and who else but Justin Bethel, the Cardinals special team ace, came up with the ball.

As exciting as the play was I immediately assumed the Cardinals would have to settle for a field goal. Starting off the drive Kerwyn Williams was stuffed for a two yard loss but an unnecessary roughness on the next play got the Cardinals a first down. The next two play again the Cardinals went nowhere until on third down when Lindley hit Larry Fitzgerald for a clutch first down to the Cardinals one yard line.  And the end of the first quarter.

Second Quarter

On the first play of the second quarter Lindley hit rising star Darren Fells for his first TD of his career on a one yard TD grab. 10 – 7 Panthers

Starting off their first offensive drive of the quarter, the Panthers were able to move the ball effectively with a combination of hard running and short passes. Thankfully the defense was able to clamp down on the Panthers offense and force them into a 43 yard field goal. As luck would have it the Panther kick went wide left, giving the Cardinals the ball at their own 25.

From here it continued to be ugly. The Cardinals again went three and out twice, losing a yard in total on both drives. No need to go into detail.

But like all season ling the defense came up and made a play with Antonio Cromartie snagging a pass intended for Jeremiah Cotchery and taking to back to the Carolina’s 17 yard line. Several plays later and great nine yard run by Williams out the Cards again on the Panthers one yard line.

The next play was scary as it looked like Williams fumbled the ball, but the ruling on the field was overturned and the Cardinals were able to punch it in on a one yard run.

On the ensuing series the Panthers were again able to move the ball on a combination of runs and small ball, moving into field goal range and putting the game at 14-13 at half time.

Halftime

Normally I would do the half time stats but it doesn’t matter. Carolina is controlling the game and two turnovers are why Arizona is even in it.

Well, one stat; Lindley has one TD and zero INTs.

Third Quarter

The second half started with a pair of punts, again Carolina was able to get yards but unable to score. Again Arizona did nothing on offense.

On Carolina’s third possession of the half they were given the ball on a really short field after a terrible punt by Butler. One play later it was Frostie Whittaker going for 39 and the TD. 20 – 14 Panthers. Several missed tackles and over aggressive pursuit of the ball carrier led to this TD. A back braking TD after a solid performance by the defense.

Did I say that TD was back braking? The next kickoff Tedd Ginn Jr, also known as "I’m a big freaking idiot" attempted to return a deep kick and fumbled the ball inside the five yard line. The defense held stout but a pass interference call gave the Panthers new life and the next play they scored again on a one yard dump off route to Mike Tolbert. Panthers 27 – 14.

At this point the wheels seemed to fall off the defense. The Cards predictably went three and out again and again gave the Panthers the ball back after some very uninspiring play calls from the offense and another errant Ryan Lindley pass.

On Panthers next possession they again were able to move the ball and hit a deep pass in a soft zone, putting the ball on the Cardinals 30. Despite all the adversity the defense found its backbone and made some big plays after a holding call and some nice pressure on Cam Newton.

On one big hit it looked like Newton lost control of the ball while being hit and Arian’s challenged the play. On closer inspection it was clearly a forward pass. A loss of a timeout and a challenge. A seemingly desperate challenge by Arians that would seem wasteful if everyone and their mother knew that the Cardinals offense was going to do nothing regardless of the outcome.

That play ended the third quarter and probably the game.

Fourth Quarter

Carolina still with the ball the fourth quarter ran for four yards and opted to punt, thankfully the ball went long and the Cardinals were not pinned deep.

Starting with the ball on the Cardinals 20 it is pretty much do or die right now and after watching Lindley attempt to navigate the pocket and take a sack on second and ten pretty much ended all hopes for this fan. Lindley was able to complete a 14 yard pass but like today and pretty much the second half of the season, it was short and the Cardinals again were forced to punt on another three and out.

And just like that there was hope. A tipped ball from Acho turned into a HUGE fumble for the Cardinals that put the Cardinals on the Panthers 13 yard line.

And just like that there was despair. On the first play Lindley absolutely starred down his WR and then threw a bad ball which was picked off by all world MLB Luke Kuechly.

The pain didn’t end there, Jonathon Stewart hit a huge run from the four yard line. Two missed tackles, including a big whiff by Matt Shaughnessey and the Panthers have the ball at their forty. And then Whittaker with another big run.

With seven minutes left and the Cardinals feeling desperate, I keep watching because I just want to believe. I want to believe that even if we are going to lose we will do it punching and kicking.

The run started well with Lindley hitting two throws and moving the ball but Carolina’s fierce rush struck and Bobbie Massie got owned two plays in a row for quick sacks of Ryan Lindley.

And that’s all she wrote.

Tough way to go out after such a brilliant start.