CHARLOTTE (WTVD) -- It had been nearly 10 years since the Panthers last won a playoff game period, and 12 years since they won in the postseason at home, so the celebration is on in Charlotte. Rightly so, it's fun to win after all, but my goodness...
The margin for error for even the best NFL teams isn't wide and for teams like the Panthers, it's basically infinitesimal. That said, this game was the exception. It was going to take an act of Herculean underachievement by Carolina to lose vs Arizona. Ryan Lindley is TERRIBLE, a fact he kept reinforcing Saturday. Minus Carson Palmer, the Cards offense is barely ambulatory, never mind capable of winning a game.
For 30 minutes though - the Panthers found a way to handcuff themselves. After powering to a 10-0 lead largely on the strength of Jonathan Stewart's piston work -- Carolina slipped into its tux and started delivering TDs to Arizona on a silver platter. First - Brenton Bersin inexplicably tried to field a skittering punt, on a wet day, in traffic, on his knees. Predictably, it didn't end well and one abbreviated 30 yard drive later - it was 10-7.
Next - it Cam Newton to the Cardinals rescue. He had narrowly dodged an interception early in the game, but this time, disaster could not be averted. It was returned all the way back to the Carolina 17 and again, the Cards cashed in a touchdown. Add a missed Graham Gano FG into the mix and despite outgaining Arizona 208-65 for the half - the Panthers trailed 14-13.
The good news is - Arizona decided to start being just as charitable themselves in the 2nd half. Punter Drew Butler repeatedly gave the Panthers golden field position with his shanks. His 31 yard 3rd quarter gem immediately preceded the biggest offensive play of the game, Fozzy Whitaker's 39 yard slicing catch and run for a score.
Ted Ginn had an even better present. Opting to try and return the ensuing kickoff from 8 yards deep in his endzone - Ginn was corraled around the 8, then spit the ball up, with the Panthers recovering at the 3. A three yard field is advantageous. Mike Tolbert effectively ended the game with his 1 yard TD reception that made it 27-14.
There were positives - Jonathan Stewart was a weapon, Luke Kuechly was his predictable all Pro self and former Tar Heel Tre Boston picked off a pass for the second straight week. The 2nd half pass rush also got to Lindley several times.
Still - this was largely terrible football today. Cam Newton made repeatedly bad choices, getting punished with INTs twice. The Panthers weren't good, but they didn't need to be. Against Arizona - they just needed to walk upright. Next week, the reality of the NFL playoffs will intervene. For now though, they can enjoy the win.