Glendale, AZ- It was all just a little bit of history repeating, but not in the way most people would have thought. The Carolina Panthers intercepted Kurt Warner five times and forced him to fumble once in a performance that mirrored Jake Delhomme's playoff collapse in 2008.
In a game that wasn't truly as close as the score shows, the Panthers played like a team possessed, spurned by the embarrassment in the playoffs last season the team turned this game into a statement; making mockery of the #1 run defense in the NFL by rushing for a team total 270 yards and two touchdowns, after Arizona allowed a meager 67.5 yards average in their first six games.
More, after the jump.
The Panthers got to a early lead marching down the field. A drive punctuated with a 17 yard reception by Dwayne Jarrett and a 16 yard run by DeAngelo Williams was finalized when Jonathan Stewart punched the ball into the endzone on a 6 yard romp. The Cardinals were quick to answer, however, with Warner leading a pass heavy drive which utilized Tim Hightower out of the backfield and finished with a 14 yard TD pass. This was the last offense the Arizona Cardinals would see until the 3rd quarter however.
The Panthers asserted their dominance with a stifling second quarter. DeAngelo Williams set the tone for the period with a blistering 77 yard run from the line of scrimmage that took advantage of safety Adrian Wilson cheating up showing blitz, after getting a good lead block Williams was off the races finally being brought down by Antrel Rolle. The drive ended with Jonathan Stewart getting the call again on 2nd and 10 scoring the Panthers' second touchdown of the day. Not resting on their laurels the Panthers forced two straight 3 and outs to regain possession and streak ahead when Jake Delhomme delivered a picture perfect pass to Steve Smith for a 50 yard TD. Jake froze the CB with a hard pump fake then showed beautiful poise delivering a touch pass to Smith to go ahead 21-7.
It got worse for an Arizona team on their heels and a silent crowd when Julius Peppers picked off a Kurt Warner pass on the first play of their drive running it 13 yards for a touchdown and giving Carolina a robust 28-7 lead. At this point the Cardinals were unable to get any offense going continuing with an 8 play drive which finished with a Thomas Davis interception, Kurt Warner's second of the day. Shortly after a Carolina punt Warner was intercepted again, this time by FS Sherrod Martin filling in for the injured Charles Godfrey he made a strong case to be named starter vs. New Orleans, but Martin's day wasn't over yet.
Carolina went to the long break up 28-7 with Arizona reeling.
Arizona scored 1st in the second half on a short pass to TE Patrick. With 6:13 left in the third quarter Jake Delhomme was injured on an incomplete pass play to FB Brad Hoover. Jake walked off the field holding his chest in clear discomfort, allowing Matt Moore to attempt his only pass of the day, overthrowing a pass out of bounds to an open Gary Barnidge on the sideline. Moore wouldn't be in the game long, as Delhomme returned after one offensive series. The next drive Brad Hoover was injured, clutching his leg he was taken off via cart and appears to have sustained an ankle injury, this closed out the third quarter.
Finishing the 1st drive of the 4th quarter it would be the last time Jake Delhomme would play in Sunday's contest. He went to the locker room clearly in discomfort and believed to be having some difficulty breathing from the injury he sustained earlier. Sherrod Martin got his second interception of the day on the Cardinals' next drive. Matt Moore did not attempt another pass with Jeff Davidson and Co. electing to stick with the run tat had been so successful all day.
John Kasay hit a 35 yard FG to extend the lead to 31-14 and after a Tim Hightower TD run the next drive it was a 10 point game in Glendale. Without a threat of the pass the Cardinals attempted to key on the run stopping the Panthers, but giving the ball right back when Julius Peppers forced a fumble from Kurt Warner resulting in another John Kasay field goal. The Cardinals had one last shot driving the field without a time out, but ultimately Kurt Warner threw his 5th interception of the day when Richard Marshall closed the game out and sealed a Carolina victory.
This was a true Carolina Panthers' football game. Running the ball 44 times and attempting only 15 passes allowed the Panthers' strengths to flourish while minimizing their weakest points. It's tough to know who a game ball deserves to go to with Julius Peppers, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart all having stellar games, but in reality they performed up to the level we're accustomed to from these players. In this writer's mind the game ball belongs to FS Sherrod Martin who stepped into the game and made a major impact with two interceptions. What do you think?