I'll be honest, I wrote off the Arizona Cardinals before the playoffs even started. Now they are one game away from the Super Bowl.
I didn't give them a prayer to beat the Atlanta Falcons, and if they somehow managed that, there was no way they could even stay with the Carolina Panthers. In fact, in an earlier article, I wrote the following:
"Arizona, as poorly as they have been playing, have clinched the NFC West and the fourth seed in the conference. If the Panthers end up as the fifth seed, I think we might see the most heavily favored road playoff team in history."
Sure, Arizona won their division, but they did it at 9-7 and more importantly, it was the NFC West. The NFC West where the second place 49ers had to win four out of their final five games to finish at 7-9.
The NFC West which saw favorite Seattle stumble into a 4-12 finish and the 2-14 Rams do everything they could to give the game away. The NFC West that had three bad teams which accounted for six out of the Cardinals' nine wins this season.
This was a Cardinals team that lost four of five games to go from 7-3 in Week 11 to 8-7 in Week 16. A Cardinals team that featured a 100-yard rusher only three times, and only once between Week Two and Week 16. A Cardinals team that only beat two teams with a .500 record or better. No way they win a game in the playoffs.
But then, last Saturday, the Cardinals won their first home playoff game since 1947, beating the Falcons and Rookie of the Year Matt Ryan, 30-24. I wrote it off to luck. They got a gift TD on a fumble return, a safety where the QB never hit the ground, and they beat a Falcons team that never caught a break.
Plus, the Cardinals had a huge home-field advantage, and Atlanta had a rookie coach and rookie QB. No way the Cards, who were 0-5 on the East Coast, go into Carolina, and beat the Panthers, the only team to go 8-0 at home in the regular season.
To top it all off, Arizona's star WR Anquan Boldin was ruled out of the game with a hamstring injury. Since Arizona has no run game, and half of their passing attack was eliminated, Carolina should dominate this game easily. No way an Arizona Cardinals team, which lost 47-7 in their last road game, had a prayer.
Boy was I wrong.
After the Panthers drove down the field easily to take a 7-0 lead, the rest of the first half was all Arizona. The Cardinals tied the game at seven and then took advantage of three first-half Jake Delhomme turnovers to take a 27-7 halftime lead.
In addition, the vaunted Panthers two-headed running attack of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart was held to just 50 yards on only nine carries in the first half, and star WR Steve Smith was held without a catch.
The most surprising part of the game was that with Boldin out, the Panthers could not defend Larry Fitzgerald in the first half. Fitzgerald caught six passes for 151 yards and a TD in the first 30 minutes and was wide open on the majority of those receptions (except the one pictured above).
The second half featured more of the same by the Panthers, and while the Cardinals didn't have much offense, they didn't need it. Carolina just never got on track, as Delhomme threw another three interceptions in the second half for a total of five.
The Cardinals pulled a major upset, scoring the most points in a playoff game in franchise history, winning by a score of 33-13.
The Cards now await the result of tomorrow's game between the New York Football Giants and the Philadelphia Eagles to find out their opponent in the NFC Championship Game. If the favored Giants win, the Cardinals travel to the Meadowlands, but if the Eagles win, the Cardinals will host the NFC title game.
The Cardinals lost to the Giants and Eagles back-to-back this season, so either way, they really don't have much of a chance to win next week, right?