The Arizona Cardinals saw their fantastic 2015 season come to an embarrassing close on Sunday. Carson Palmer threw four interceptions and fumbled twice. The Arizona defense couldn't stop Cam Newton, who threw for 335 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for two more. It was a dominant performance by the team with the best record in the league and the Panthers are heading to the Super Bowl to take on Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos after a 49-15 blowout win over the Arizona Cardinals.
Here is the blow-by-blow account of the season-ending loss.
In the most important game of the season the Arizona Cardinals couldn’t have started worse. The offense came out and laid an egg, punting the ball after only being able to gain three yards on three plays.
After a bad punt the Panthers marched down the field with Cam Newton hitting his WR’s for two big first downs. The defense did well against the run but struggled against the play action. The defense was able to buckle down and hold them to a field goal.
The next series from the Cardinals was equally uninspiring with the offense getting a first down by a penalty but only nine total yards on six plays. The Cardinals punted the Panthers back into good field position and a Ted Ginn reverse went 22 yards to put the Cardinals down 10.
The Cardinals offense followed that up with less of a stinker by getting at least two first downs before punting. This time the Panthers actually had to drive 88 yards before extending the score.
On the Cardinals fourth possession it started to again show some life before a third and long led to a Carson Palmer sack fumble. The failure of the defense and the offense began to lead to frustration on the sidelines with Marcus Golden losing his cool and getting into a verbal shouting match with a defensive coach.
The defense fired up actually stopped the Panthers and in only three downs.
Finally the offense began showing life and actually crossed into Panthers territory on the back of David Johnson who gave the Cardinals their first sign of life all game. With the run game churning the pass protection began to settle and Palmer was able to hit his targets down field getting the Cardinals offense a first and goal on the Panthers three-yard line.
With the Cardinals offense showing some life Arians trusted his rookie running back and gave him two carries and his first career playoff TD! It’s a game folks!
With the game now a game, it’s time for the defense to show some mettle. And that they did with Justin Bethel making a nice play and pass deflection and the pass rush finally starting to make Newton a little uncomfortable in the pocket. The defense got the Panthers on the field but on the ensuing punt, Patrick Peterson muffed the punt and gave the Panthers the ball right back and in great field position. Ouch.
The next defensive series for the Cardinals, Peterson got beat on a double move by Ted Ginn and almost gave up the TD if not for him holding prior to the play. The Panthers then hit off two big runs to Jonathan Stewart, getting the ball to the Cardinals one-yard line. The Cardinals defense played tough for two downs but Cam Newton was able to get the ball over the goal line on a third down QB sneak, putting their lead back to 17. All because Patrick Peterson tried to be a hero and make the big play.
With 1:56 left in the half, the Cardinals offense at least has a chance to get some points on the board. However the worst happened and the Cardinals put one foot in the grave with Palmer getting hit and fumbling the ball, giving the ball right back to the Panthers again.
With the Panthers on the Cardinals 21 with a big lead about to get bigger, it was looking grim.
But the remarkable happened! Newton overthrew his WR and right into the waiting hands of Patrick Peterson who took it all the way to the Panthers 22.
But the circus has just begun fans with Palmer giving it right back to the Panthers, getting intercepted in the end zone on a terrible decision. With his WR double covered he decided it was a great time to throw it into double coverage.
Wow, this is ugly.
The Panthers kneeled out the half knowing they’ll get it back at the start of the second half.
The Panthers started the half with the ball and stayed aggressive, going to pass more often then run. The Cardinals defense was unable to get to Newton, giving him time to find the open receiver and dissect the Cardinals D. The defense was at least able to hold the Panthers offense to a field goal after their first sack, which came as a gift when Newton tripped.
With the lead extended to 20 it is now or never for Carson Palmer to make some plays and put pressure on Carolina. The Cardinals showed some momentum but Larry Fitzgerald dropped a tipped third down pass on third and short. With the defense struggling, it doesn’t look good. Someone needs to make a play and get the team back into the game.
The Panthers offense came out and continued to hum, with Newton hitting Ginn for another big play, the ball going right over Jerraud Powers outstretched hands on what looked like a potential INT. Even Peterson struggled giving up an easy first down to Devin Funchess. With the Panthers back in scoring position, any more points and the game might be out of hand for the lackluster Cardinals offense and the lackluster play of Carson Palmer.
With that said the game Newton probably put the game out of reach on back-to-back runs resulting in a touchdown and a 27-point lead that likely will prove insurmountable with just 2 minutes left in the third.
With the offense back in the field it seemed the game was actually over with Larry Fitzgerald, the man with only 24 drops his entire career, dropped his second pass of the game an on an easy catch. Luckily he made the third down catch, but him dropping passes is not a good sign.
The third quarter ended with the Cardinals moving the ball, but with time running out and a 27 points lead to overcome with just a quarter of play, I at least already feel defeated.
The quarter started with another dropped pass on third down. Palmer is finally making throws and now the WRs are now dropping passes. Wow. Going for it on 4th and two, Johnson made a play and was able to get a first and extend the drive. Darren Fells, who dropped the pass on third down, redeemed him self with a TD grab to close the massive gap in scores.
The Cardinals decided to go for two and ran the Jet Sweep, getting J.J. Nelson the ball. Nelson avoided a tackler was able to drive in to close the gap to 19 points.
With the defense struggling all game a dropped pass and a nice open field tackle by Justin Bethel gave the Cardinals offense the ball back after a quick three and out by the Panthers.
Bad Palmer decided to show up and after two near interceptions, a holding call gave the Cardinals a first but this time Palmer again forced a pass and was rewarded with another interception. Palmer was lucky to not have two passes picked off on one series but kept forcing the ball into double coverage and was burned.
What makes this drive frustrating was watching Palmer play so well the drive before and then just decide to force the deep pass despite having open WRs on shorter routes. He went from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde in just one series and really embodied that during the Cardinals playoff run.
With the defense setting up a third down, the play action again ate up the Cardinals as Bethel was again torched, this time by All Pro Greg Olsen in route to a 54-yard gain. With the Panthers back in scoring position, this game is basically over.
Sorry that we had to suffer such a humiliating defeat after such a great season, but the Cardinals offense and mostly Carson Palmer just laid an egg and the defense was unable to force the Panthers to become one dimensional. The loss was an ugly way to end the season but hope for the future as the Cardinals are still going to be a good team next year.