The Carolina Panthers devoured the Arizona Cardinals 49-15 on their way to the Super Bowl. It was ugly from the outset and never got much better for Carson Palmer & Co. After surviving Palmer's poor performance a week prior, Arizona wasn't able to overcome the error-prone QB in this one and was outplayed in every phase of the game. It was a sad ending to an otherwise great season for Arizona. While Carolina dominated in every facet, Carson Palmer shoulders the blame for this one. His play was disgusting. So what did we learn? Beware: venting to follow.
Carson Palmer is a regular season QB
If you thought Carson Palmer couldn't look any worse than he did against Green Bay, you were wrong. Seems strange to say that a guy who threw for 349 yds and 3 TDs against the Packers had a bad game, but he really did, and it was worse tonight. Palmer was consistently under pressure and looked uncomfortable throwing the ball, frequently missing throws by a wide margin and not seeing defenders that he should be seeing and forcing balls into double coverage.
How ironic that the best regular season QB in the NFL since 2014 would prove to be a flake in the playoffs? All those saying the Cardinals would have won it all with Palmer last year might be rethinking that notion after Palmer's effort this postseason. A team this talented can't afford to be run into the ground by their QB when it matters most. I personally think they should make a run at trading for Drew Brees or Philip Rivers in the offseason with the Saints and Chargers probably looking to rebuild. Could take a decade to land another Super Bowl-caliber QB otherwise.
Yes, I'm serious. Carson Palmer will not win a Super Bowl for this team or any other. And don't blame the finger. The finger doesn't decide to throw the ball into double coverage. It might affect the accuracy of the throw, but it doesn't affect the decision to throw the ball where it should not be thrown. Carson has always been a poor decision maker. He got lucky against Green Bay, but not tonight.
David Johnson is legit
The Cardinals needed to have a better day running the ball than they did against Green Bay if they were going to win this game. They at least needed to stick with the run and not abandon it early and become one-dimensional. Thank goodness for David Johnson. The rookie ran the ball like a man and really came to play. If only everyone else had followed his lead. He was the only positive for the Cardinals in this game and put a nice exclamation point on an awesome rookie season. Can't wait to see what this guy does over the next 10 years.
Carolina's defense is really, really good
They were able to get consistent pressure on Palmer and force him to make quick decisions, which is clearly his weak spot. I think they could have done better against the run, but they knew if they shut down the pass game they would dominate, so that's what they focused on. Josh Norman made Michael Floyd a non-factor, and Luke Kuechly plays the linebacker position as well as anyone is the league not named Khalil Mack. Even the losses of Roman Harper and Thomas Davis early in this game didn't seem to slow them down.
Arizona's defensive line needs an upgrade (and a Honey Badger on the field)
The loss of Tyrann Mathieu was really felt tonight. His absence was apparent in both pass coverage and Arizona's ability to generate pressure via scheme. Dwight Freeney and Calais Campbell didn't sniff Cam Newton all game. Getting a defensive lineman that can consistently rush the passer should be at the top of the Cardinals' offseason wish list.
Ted Ginn is still good
Arizona let him go because they had so many younger, presumably faster weapons at WR, but he burned them on Special Teams/WR/RB (TD on the reverse) in this game and looked as explosive as he ever has. He will be a factor in the Super Bowl against Denver. He'll have to be. Denver's defense is really, really good as well. Like Ravens/Trent Dilfer or Bucs/Brad Johnson good. To beat them the Panthers will need big plays from Ginn and Greg Olsen.
BA is crazy
The Cardinals ran a wildcat play and a reverse to Fitz pass play in the first quarter. I think the reverse to Fitz was a run with the option to throw it away if needed, and I'm glad Fitz made that decision because it was a disaster. This "no risk it, no biscuit" approach has me scratching my head at times. I get the philosophy and that it got them this far and blah, blah, blah, but sometimes the decisions that seem to be common-sense turn into completely baffling calls. Like nearly as baffling as not giving the ball to Marshawn Lynch four straight times last year for Seattle. Arians, like Palmer, survived it last week and it didn't turn out to be a huge factor in this game, but his go-for-broke approach will cost this team a win at some point. Hopefully not in the playoffs.
Cam is for real
He looked much more comfortable/poised than Palmer the entire game, throwing darts all over the field, playing free and having fun. Pressure doesn't seem to be an issue for him, and he's truly a joy to watch (unlike Aaron Rodgers, who just looks miserable when he's on the field). I hadn't seen much of him this year, so I was interested to see if the hype was deserved or not. It is.
Carolina will give Denver hell, and I think they'll be the Broncos in Super Bowl 50.
Turnovers are important (aka Patrick Peterson shouldn't be returning punts next season)
The muffed punt by Patrick Peterson was HUGE. Arizona had a chance to get back into the game until that moment. They made it slightly interesting later, but it never felt like they really had a chance after that play. And I sincerely hope the Cardinals let someone else return punts from now on. There's no reason to risk injury to one of the best defensive backs in the league to allow him to play on special teams. He hasn't had a punt return TD since his rookie year, and doesn't seem to have many big returns. It's not worth the risk.
Always tough to swallow when a team with so much talent that had such a great season has to pack up and go home and wonder what could have been. It will be a long 8 months for Cardinal fans waiting for next year, and there are a lot of questions to be answered in the offseason. Can Arizona land a pass rusher? Will Tyrann Mathieu come back and stay healthy? Do they try to secure the next franchise QB of the future or go the route of the Dbacks and try to get someone at QB that can help this talented team win now? We'll just have to wait and see...