And it all came to a screeching halt in Arizona.
The Cardinals "Desert Swarm" defense bullied the Panthers all day, forcing 4 turnovers, including 4 interceptions and a safety for good measure. Add 7 sacks and 8 tackles for loss for the Arizona defense and you have a recipe for disaster. The Cardinals dominated the game to win, 22-6.
But the Panthers had their fair share of opportunities to win this game, ruining multiple chances of putting up major points. Nine penalties, a Steve Smith drop in the end zone, a LaFell drop on 4th down and 1, and 2 interceptions in Arizona territory stunted all offensive growth.
The Panthers offense started the game fast and with authority. After the Cardinals punted the ball on their first possession, Newton drove the Panthers down the field with laser passes and pinpoint accuracy. The drive stalled, however, when Steve Smith dropped the ball on a catchable pass while open in the end zone. A Graham Gano field goal put them up early, 3-0. The offense was wildly inconsistent for the rest of the first half, with Newton frequently under pressure, and throwing an interception to Patrick Peterson. However, he was still able to will the offense to the opposing end to build a 6-3 lead at the half.
And that’s when the Cardinals defense decided to take over. They held the Panthers to zero points and gave them no room to breathe. Cardinals linebacker Daryl Washington seemingly did it on his own, amassing 9 tackles (3 for a loss), 2 sacks, and 1 interception. Rashard Mendenhall ran for a touchdown, Carson Palmer passes for another, and that was the ballgame.
While many may be quick to point out disappointing performances by nearly all the Panthers, a ton of credit has to be given to Arizona and their suffocating defense. Let’s hope the Panthers can figure their offense out before it is too late.