“Yes, I’ll have the crow, rare, and ummmm...let’s see. (long pause) OK, and a Kool-Aid to wash it down. Extra large, please.”
The one hard thing about picking winners and losers where your opinion is shared with thousands is when your pick turns out to be laughable. Not even close. Ridiculously off-base. A prognosticating nightmare. A joke. Cris Collinsworth-like.
The Cardinals and Panthers have played, on average, once a year since 2002. Between schedule quirks and playing twice last year because of the playoffs, it’s just how it has worked out.
Until last year’s playoff win (you know, the one that I so loved pointing out in my pre-game analysis), Carolina has basically owned the Big Red. Be it here in Arizona or there in Carolina, the Panthers have used a punishing running game, a stifling defense, and WR Steve Smith to have their way with Arizona.
Instead of folding like a tortilla, instead of succumbing to what had all the earmarks of "inevitable loss" written all over it, the Carolina Panthers ran the ball right down the Cardinals' and, by extension, my throat.
That 1-2 RB punch I mentioned in the pre-game ran, romped, rolled, and ruined whatever positives the Cards had going for them heading into this game. The Panthers accumulated a total of 195 yards on the ground, with DeAngelo Williams collecting 108 yards himself. Jonathan Stewart added 61, and Smith averaged 17 per carry.
IN THE FIRST HALF!
This game looked eerily like the Colts game, only worse. The Cardinals' second quarter possessions went as follows: punt, punt, interception, interception, interception. By the time the dust settled, Carolina was up 28-7 at the break.
The third quarter seemed to open up a sliver of hope for the faithful, and the Cards actually closed the score to 31-21 with about 10 minutes left in the fourth. They were primed for a miraculous comeback. But Kurt Warner and the Cardinals would have none of it.
Some of this was on Warner, but much of Sunday’s loss rests right on the shoulders of head coach Ken Whisenhunt. The Cardinals looked lethargic from the get-go. They had no energy, no emotion.
Granted, it’s tough to maintain a high level of emotion when you keep handing the ball to the opposition. But when they started chipping away and scratching and clawing, and pulled within 10, the offense laid down.
The play, and the play calling, was atrocious down the stretch.
After the defense three-and-outed Carolina and the Cards got the ball back, Warner proceeded to throw his fourth pick of the game.
The defense was unable to duplicate the "see you in three," and Carolina added a FG. More importantly, they used up precious minutes of clock.
By the time the Cards saw the ball again, in spite of Carolina taking over at the Cards 30 on the pick and gaining only 14 yards, there was but 2:40 left.
Now, as a fan, I’m seeing down by two scores and, even without timeouts, a chance with this studly offense to make a game of it. But the Cards saw it differently. Lethargic and unfocused to the bitter end, they just didn’t seem to want it. They didn’t have any fight.
Example, with 2:11 left, Warner hit Tim Hightower in stride, who was heading toward the sideline after picking up 10 yards or so. But instead of just continuing to the sideline to stop the clock and squeeze in another play (remember, they have no timeouts at this point), Hightower turns inside and takes the ball an extra yard...maybe...and it ticks to the two-minute warning.
Had they gathered themselves and run a quick play with Carolina on its heels, maybe Warner could have picked up another chunk of real estate.
But coming out of the two-minute warning, with Carolina defenders rotated and fresh, Warner was sacked on the first play. By this time it’s over. Sure, Warner added another pick to tie his personal high at five, but that’s all that came out of the final minutes of play.
It was a bad sign when this No. 1-rated run defense allowed the Panthers to convert all five of its third down opportunities on the opening drive. The 15-play, 74-yard drive ate up almost eight minutes to start the game. It was the first TD given up by the Cardinals defense in the first quarter all year, and it set the tone for the game.
All that being said, I have to admit that I screwed up. Sure, after 21 years of living and dying each Sunday with this team, you’d think I’d know better. But NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO...
I bought into the whole thing: veteran team, loaded with stars, defense stepping up, etc. I have to admit that I drank the Cardinals Kool-Aid. Gallons of it.
Now I’m using it to wash down a heaping helping of crow.
--- SCOTT Z BRADY
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