Panthers-Cardinals: Keys for Advancing to the NFC Championship
This is a big game for both the Carolina Panthers and Arizona Cardinals. This game holds no "win or lose, we'll get 'em next time" cliche in it. It's "do or die time, sink or swim, win and go on to the next round or stay home"—any number of cliches you might care to make.
Both teams have made a case as to why they deserve to be in the position they are in.
The Panthers gave the Giants a run for their money two weeks ago, forcing the game into overtime, where the Giants' Brandon Jacobs was finally able to drive the final blow into the Panthers defensive efforts.
One week later, the Panthers would lead the New Orleans Saints by 13 points midway through the fourth quarter of the regular season finale, where the Saints would go on an unanswered 14-point drive to lead the game by one point with two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
Jake Delhomme would make an awesome 39-yard connection with wide receiver Steve Smith, which would eventually set Kasay up to attempt a 41-yard field goal.
"...The snap, the kick, and it is gooooood!!! John Kasay kicks the Panthers to an NFC South division title and a number two seed in the playoffs!"
The Panthers will again play host to the Cardinals. Here are six keys to the Panthers success, and four keys to the Cardinals success in this matchup of "win or go home."
Carolina's running game has been terrific this year. The duo of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart has been phenomenal, and it seems that the feud over who the real "Smash and Dash" may have been is settled for now.
Running backs LenDale White and Chris Johnson of the Tennessee Titans may keep their pseudo-name of "Smash and Dash," as it seems that the Panthers' DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart have settled on "Double Trouble."
The Cardinals snuck in another dimension to their offensive weapons last Saturday against the Falcons: Edgerrin James, aka "The Edge."
A running back who is well known from his days with the Colts, he seemingly appeared from nowhere and gave the Cardinals that little extra something to take the Falcons by surprise.
I've heard Jake "The Snake" Delhomme, but if I remember correctly, that nickname was originally reserved for Jake Plummer. Let's not be a copy-cat team—no pun intended.
Jake Delhomme has all the qualities I love in a quarterback. He's a fiery competitor, he is a team person, he's shouldered the blame—no questions as to whether it truly was him to blame or his receiver or linemen.
This year, if not for some indiscrepancies at times—along with the fact that these "comeback" awards are popularity contests—Delhomme, coming off of tommy-john surgery in the offseason, has played like an older version of the Chargers' Philip Rivers; they have same jersey number too.
Jake Delhomme—3,288 passing yards, 12 INT, 15 TD, for a QB rating of 84.7%— was quite deserving of the "Comeback Player Of The Year" award. Twelve interceptions on a season, with 16 regular season games, is .75 interceptions per game on the whole season.
Kurt Warner was simply amazing this year. I couldn't have imagined that the talent would be there around him in Arizona.
Much like the Titans' Kerry Collins, Warner is getting some gray hairs popping out from time-to-time.
It has been a hard fought race for the Cards and their quarterback this year. Warner has been nipping at the heels of the Saints' Drew Brees, as he had 4583 passing yards, 30 touchdowns, and was intercepted only 14 times.
I remember what I said about comeback player of the year, and while I respect Warner's numbers, I am still a Panthers fan, pulling for our quarterback.
Steve Smith, Muhsin Muhammad
Steve Smith and Muhsin Muhammad have been two big factors in the Panthers' keys to success.
Smitty has had an outstanding season, and Moose is still making a statement, that while you may think he's old, he still has the moves and can plow you down. What an awesome receiver/blocker role he plays.
Larry Fitzgerald has been a key component to the Cardinals passing game. He has the lateral jumping abilities, the sticky hands to grab and hold onto the ball, and the ability to do all this in double-coverage, while falling on his back.
Watch out for Chris Gamble in the backfield. He will make an appearance when you think he's been made ineffective.
Rod Hood has made an impact at corner back for the Cardinals defense.
Jon Beason has been a defensive force and huge playmaker for the Panthers this year.
Can't leave out Julius Peppers. This man has had an outstanding season for the Panthers this year. He is a force for opposing offense to reckon with.