Last week we documented that the Panthers were the NFL's worst this season in forcing turnovers and giving the ball away. In Sunday's win at Arizona, however, Carolina completely bucked that trend.
The Panthers forced six turnovers, including five interceptions of Kurt Warner, and did not turn it over at all. It was a staggering performance. The defense forced almost as many turnovers in one game as it had in the previous six games of the season (seven). The offense ended a string of seven consecutive games with at least one turnover, including the devastating playoff loss to Arizona in January. Quarterback Jake Delhomme, who entered the game with an NFL-worst 7.3 interception percentage, did not come close to tossing another pick.
The Panthers in the process wilted their turnover differential from an NFL-worst minus-14 to minus-8, good enough for a three-way tie for 28th in the league pending Monday night's game.
This was a team win. The defense forced five of the turnovers -- only one was a true gift from the Cardinals -- and the offense was more than error-free. In fact the offense scored three touchdowns to build a 21-7 lead in the second quarter before the defense had forced a single turnover.
But the six turnovers were the biggest keys to the win. They helped the Panthers keep Arizona and its high-powered offense from ever making a serious rally. One turnover resulted directly in a Panthers touchdown. Another set up a field goal. Another killed an Arizona drive in field-goal range. Still another squashed a late Arizona comeback attempt. Here is an inside look at all six...
Situation: First-and-10, Arizona 20. 21-7 Panthers lead. 7:33 to play in the second quarter.
Formations: Arizona lined up with two backs, a tight end on the right side and two receivers left. Carolina was in a 4-3 with two corners in press coverage. Right defensive end Julius Peppers lined up wide over the Arizona left tackle, who had no help.
What happened: Peppers intercepted a Warner swing pass and returned it 13 yards for a touchdown.
How it happened: The slot receiver went in motion right and lined up in the right slot. With an overload right, Warner sold a pass right by looking in that direction as he dropped back. A back flared out left uncovered and the left guard rushed upfield to block a linebacker, giving the back a seam to run through if he caught the swing pass.
But the left tackle missed a low block on Peppers. As Warner threw left, Peppers leaped and intercepted the pass. He then easily returned the pick for a score.
The result: After the extra point Carolina led 28-7, its biggest lead of the season.
Situation: Second-and-10, Carolina 37. 28-7 Panthers. 5 minutes to play in second.
Formations: Arizona lined up in the shotgun with one back and four receivers, two on each side. Carolina deployed only three down linemen and its corners backed off the line a few yards.
What happened: Carolina lineman Charles Johnson tipped a Warner pass, and linebacker Thomas Davis intercepted it at the Carolina 24.
How it happened: A Cardinal got open at the 30, but Warner ignored him and threw an intermediate slant over the middle of the field. Johnson jumped and tipped the ball with his left hand at the 39. Davis, standing in front of intended receiver Steve Breaston, was in good position. The college defensive back won a jump ball over Breaston.
The result: The Cardinals drive fizzled and Carolina still led by 21 late in the first half.
Situation: First-and-10, Arizona 21. 28-7 Panthers. 1:33 to play in second.
Formations: Arizona lined up in the shotgun with one back and four receivers, two on each side. Carolina had two down linemen with three other defenders showing blitz, and corners in press coverage.
What happened: Warner threw deep for receiver Larry Fitzgerald, but safety Sherrod Martin intercepted the overthrown pass and fell out of bounds at the Carolina 43.
How it happened: Carolina rushed five defenders but the Cardinals picked up the blitz and gave Warner plenty of time to throw. He looked left the whole time and threw deep left for Fitzgerald, running a corner route. Fitzgerald had a step on the corner but the ball was a couple yards overthrown. Martin raced across the field and picked it off.
The result: Arizona's third turnover of the quarter, and the only one all day that the Panthers did not force, ensured they would take a 21-point lead into halftime.
Situation: First-and-10, Arizona 20. 28-14 Panthers. 14:03 to play in the fourth quarter.
Formations: Arizona lined up in the shotgun with one back, a tight end right and three receivers, including two right. Carolina was in a 4-3 with its corners a few yards off the line.
What happened: The back went in motion left and settled in the left slot. A safety moved up to cover him, bringing a 10th Carolina defender within five yards of the line.
Corner Chris Gamble hit tight end Jeremy Urban as he caught a pass at the Arizona 40, knocking the ball out of Urban's hands and up into the air. Martin intercepted the carom at the 43 and returned it to the 20.
How it happened: Urban started in the right slot and ran an out into a hole in the Carolina zone. As he caught the ball four Panthers converged, including Gamble, who hit him in the back. The ball flew straight up. Martin picked it off on the run and returned it 23 yards.
The result: Four plays later, John Kasay kicked a short field goal to give Carolina a three-score lead with less than 12 minutes to play.
Situation: First-and-10, Arizona 39. 31-21 Panthers, 7:15 to play in fourth.
Formations: Arizona lined up in the shotgun with one back and four receivers, two on each side. Carolina was in a 4-3 with its corners a few yards off the line.
What happened: Peppers sacked Warner and stripped the ball. Defensive lineman Tyler Brayton recovered it at the Arizona 31.
How it happened: Warner was pressured up the middle, scrambled right and looked for a receiver. He missed Breaston, who was open at the Arizona 45 in the middle of the field. Peppers closed on him and knocked the ball out just before Warner's knee hit the ground. Brayton dove on the loose ball.
The result: This play all but sealed the win. Arizona had some momentum, scoring a touchdown to pull within 10 points and then forcing a Carolina punt. Warner completed a 14-yard pass to Fitzgerald to give Arizona a first down with still almost half a quarter to play. But this turnover on the next play gave the Panthers the ball in field-goal range. Arizona was out of timeouts and the Panthers ran more than four minutes off the clock on six runs to set up another Kasay field goal.
By the time Arizona got the ball back, it trailed by 13 with less than three minutes to play and no timeouts.
Situation: Fourth-and-10, Carolina 32. 34-21 Panthers. 13 seconds to play in fourth.
Formations: Arizona lined up in the shotgun with one back and four receivers, two on each side. Carolina rushed three linemen and dropped several players back deep into coverage.
What happened: Corner Richard Marshall jumped in front of Fitzgerald and picked off a Warner pass at the 13.
How it happened: Carolina had Fitzgerald well-covered near the left sideline and Marshall made the play.
The result: Game over.