The Carolina Panthers managed to throw away an entire season's worth of great memories, comeback victories and fantastic highlights in last night's playoff loss to the Arizona Cardinals.
The game started out well for the Panthers as Jonathon Stewart manged to find the end zone from nine yards out on the game's first possession. From there, it went down hill. Rhyss Lloyd puts the ensuing kickoff out of bounds giving the Cardinals the ball at their own 40. Why didn't he just try to kick it deep as Lloyd has had several kickoffs go for touchbacks on the year? Despite not getting a score on Arizona's first possession, they managed to create a turnover on the next Panther possession off a Jake Delhomme fumble. The first half ends with Arizona owning a 20 point lead with three scores coming off of three Panther turnovers - two intereceptions and one fumble.
Carolina came into the game with DeAngelo Williams averaging 5.5 yards per carry and Jonathon Stewart hitting it at 4.5 ypc. Why are we even trying to pass the ball deep early in the first half? We've been a ball control team the whole year and after 16 regular season games, you don't change the personality of your team in the first week of the playoffs. We've come back in games earlier in the year when we were down by staying with the run, depending on our defense to make a few stops and the offense making the most of the opportunities. Williams managed to average 5.3 ypc and Stewart had 4.0 ypc. The problem was they just didn't get that many opportunities to carry the ball.
The game's stats don't lie and show just how lopsided this matchup was. Arizona getting three first downs via penalities. I can remember two on one drive that kept the chains moving enroute to another score. Arizona was successful on 10 of 18 third down conversions. The Panthers had only eight third down chances and converted four of them. Only having eight chances to convert a third down is the direct result of the six turnovers that killed drives. The Cardinals dominated the clock as they had the ball twice as much (nearly 40 minutes to 20) and ran 25 more plays than the Panthers did.
It's been awhile that I've been as disgusted at the Panthers in a game as I after that game. The embarrasment and disappointment I'm feeling now will take a while to dissipate but it will eventually go away. This was looking like our year to do something magical by making a run in the playoffs. I felt like we would match up well with any of the remaining NFC teams left and had an excellent chance of making it back to the Super Bowl. Giving Arizona credit, they did make the best of their opportunites and played very good defense. There's always next year to look forward to but it won't make the disappointment feel any better.