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Week 19 Game Recap: Arizona Cardinals 33, Carolina Panthers 13

What you need to know

Arizona Cardinals

On a rainy night in Carolina, Arizona shocked the heavily favored Panthers 33--13 with a balanced offense and a ball hawking defense. The Cardinals rushed 43 times for 145 yards while the Panthers -- the NFL's third best rushing attack -- were held to 75 yards. The Arizona defense forced six turnovers including two interceptions in the red zone. It was the same strategy they used to shut down Atlanta, which boasted the second best rushing attack in the league, and now the long shot Cardinals are one win away from the Super Bowl.

The Cardinals scored on five consecutive drives as they raced out to a 27--7 halftime lead. Even though Anquan Boldin was inactive with a hamstring injury, Arizona was 3--1 this season without him in the lineup. Larry Fitzgerald came through with 166 yards on eight receptions and scored one touchdown. WR Steve Breaston, who replaced Boldin, chipped in with four balls for 28 yards while Kurt Warner completed 21 of 32 for 220 yards and two touchdowns. Arizona's commitment to running the ball seemed to confuse the Panthers and several key pass completions came off play action. Edgerrin James rushed 20 times and scored one touchdown while rookie Tim Hightower gained 76 yards and caught a short TD pass. In the second half the Cardinals' balanced attack turned into a smash mouth ground assault with Hightower doing most of the damage in the fourth quarter.

While the Arizona offense usually grabs the headlines, the defense deserves most of the credit for this victory. After Carolina quickly scored a touchdown on their first possession of the game the Cardinal defenders settled down. Arizona tied the score at seven and on Carolina's next drive DE Antonio Smith, who recorded a safety against Atlanta, stripped Delhomme and recovered the fumbled at the Carolina 13 yard line. Five different defenders intercepted Delhomme but Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was the brightest star in the Cardinal secondary. He intercepted a Steve Smith target at the goal line, jumped Smith's short slant route and deflected a pass that Antrel Rolle picked off, and stayed with Smith stride for stride on a deep pass and easily knocked the ball away. Rogers-Cromartie, who once had to choose between a career as an NFL defender or Olympic sprinter, apparently made the right decision.

Carolina Panthers

Carolina scored the first touchdown of the game and the last touchdown of the game. It was all that middle part that gave them fits. Jake Delhomme lost a fumble on the Carolina 13 yard line and threw five interceptions. Two came in the red zone despite the face that Carolina was statistically the best red zone team in the NFL.

During the regular season the Panthers averaged 152.3 rushing yards per game, third best in the league. DeAngelo Williams ripped off a 31 yard run on their opening drive but only gained 32 more yards after that. Running mate James Stewart scored Carolina's first touchdown on a nine yard run but totaled just 12 yards in the game. Steve Smith didn't make his first catch until there was 48 seconds left in the third quarter. When he scored the last TD of the game with less than a minute to play only a handful of Panther fans were still in the stands.

While the Carolina defense had to often defend a shortened field because of all the turnovers it's hard to argue that better field position would have mattered. In their last six regular season games they surrendered 30 or more points four times, and the Cardinals' commitment to running the ball, even when the yards were hard to come by, eventually wore them down. Warner was at his playoff best and they couldn't figure out how to cover Larry Fitzgerald who torched them for 166 yards. At the start of the third quarter they blitzed more frequently with limited success, but still trailed 30--7 entering the fourth quarter.

What you ought to know

QB Kurt Warner, Pass: 21 - 32 - 220 - 2 TD / 1 INT, Rush: 3 - 1 - 0

The former Super Bowl MVP only needed 30 minutes to lead Arizona to a blowout win over the heavily favored Carolina Panthers. After quickly falling behind 0--7, Warner tied the score on a drive where he completed four of four passes for 55 yards. He spread the ball around to eight different receivers as he engineered five consecutive scoring drives enroute to a 27--7 first half lead. The game was essentially over at that point and his primary duty in the second half consisted of handing the ball off to either Edgerrin James or Tim Hightower.

Warner earned a QB rating of 93.2 by completing 21 of 32 for 220 yards and two touchdowns. Only five teams in NFL history have had three different receivers catch at least 75 passes in the same year and Warner quarterbacked three of those teams.

RB Edgerrin James, Rush: 20 - 57 - 1, Rec: 1 - 9 - 0 (2 targets)

On at least three running plays, James tried to run wide but slipped down on the rain slick field. Otherwise he would have averaged more than 2.9 yards per carry. Still, he ran strong between the tackles and Carolina had to account for him on every play. It was off a play action fakes that Arizona was able to open up the passing attack. On third and one, Warner play faked a pitch to James and then hit Fitzgerald on a 50 yard pass play to set up their first TD. Following their fumble recovery at the Panther 13 yard line, James gained nine yards on a screen pass before he scored the go ahead touchdown on a four yard run off left tackle.

James seemed as if he had something to prove in this game. He was benched following Arizona's week eight loss to Carolina and played hardly at all in the next seven games.

RB Tim Hightower, Rush: 17 - 76 - 0, Rec: 1 - 3 - 1 (2 targets)

Hightower entered the game late in the first quarter and promptly caught a short pass in the left flat and dashed into the end zone for the Cardinals first touchdown. He only carried the ball twice in the first half but finished off Carolina in the fourth quarter with 13 punishing carries. His longest run covered 17 yards and he led the Cardinal rushing attack with 76 yards. Late in the regular season he lost his starting job to Edgerrin James in part because of fatigue. Sharing the rushing responsibilities lessened the work load, however, and Hightower seems once again in midseason form.

RB J.J. Arrington, Rush: 2 - 11 - 0, Rec: 3 - 10 - 0 (4 targets)

In limited duty as the third down back Arrington rushed for 11 yards on two carries and caught three passes for ten yards. He also returned one kickoff for 23 yards.

RB Terrelle Smith, Rush: 1 - 0 - 0 (1 targets)

While Smith failed to gain a yard on his only carry and failed to catch his only target, he still should make the highlights. When Julius Peppers flushed Warner from the pocket in the second quarter and chased him toward the right sideline Smith peeled back and decleated Peppers with a clean but vicious hit.

RB Tim Castille, Rec: 1 - 3 - 0 (1 targets)

Castille caught a short pass to the Carolina three yard line in the first quarter that helped set up their first touchdown.

WR Larry Fitzgerald, Rec: 8 - 166 - 1 (13 targets)

Without his pro bowl receiving partner Anquan Boldin, Fitzgerald turned in a monster performance in arguably the biggest game in franchise history. His 50 yard catch on a third and one call set up the tying touchdown in the first quarter. Late in the second quarter he caught a crossing pattern deep in Carolina territory. He was about to be forced out of bounds short of the end zone but he dove, stretched the ball out with his left hand, and tucked the ball inside the pylon. The play covered 29 yards and made the score 27--7 Arizona.

WR Steve Breaston, Rec: 4 - 28 - 0 (4 targets)

While technically Boldin's replacement, Breaston saw limited action as Warner utilized eight different receivers and the running game took over the second half of the game. Still, he gained over 1,000 yards this season and is a key component in the Arizona aerial attack.

WR Jerheme Urban, Rec: 2 - 5 - 0 (2 targets)

With Arizona committed to a balanced attack, Urban only caught two third quarter passes for five yards.

During the regular season Urban was an effective WR4. He scored four touchdowns, caught 34 passes, and included in his 448 yards were big plays of 56 and 50 yards.

WR Early Doucet, Rec: 1 - -4 - 0 (1 targets)

Doucet saw some duty as the third or fourth receiver in different formations, but was not a factor.

WR Anquan Boldin

Inactive with hamstring injury, but may be ready for the NFC Championship game.

TE Stephen Spach (1 targets)

The Cardinals lined up with two tight end sets none caught a pass. Spach, who has stabilized the position and made some key grabs, injured his knee in the fourth quarter. Even though he was able to walk to the sidelines he left the stadium strapped to a cart.

PK Neil Rackers 4 - 5 FG, 3 - 3 XP, 15 points

Rackers hit field goals from 49, 30, 33, and 20 yards, but missed a 53 yarder into the wind and rain at the end of the first half. He also converted all extra points.

ARI Rush Defense

For the second week in a row the Arizona defense shut down a high powered rushing attack. Last week it was Michael Turner and Jerious Norwood, this week DeAngelo Williams and James Stewart were held in check. The Cardinals now have the defensive line depth that allows them to rotate players into the game and keep everyone fresh. They are playing their gaps and staying at home, and S Adrian Smith is playing like a fourth linebacker. Outside of Carolina's first drive of the game, when Williams found a cut back lane and ripped off a 31 yard run and Stewart scored from nines yards out, the third best rushing attack was virtually shut down.

ARI Pass Defense

Antrel Rolle, Ralph Brown, Roderick Hood, LB Gerald Hayes, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie all intercepted passes, but Rodgers-Cromartie clearly had the greatest impact. He covered Steve Smith most of the game and intercepted a pass targeted for Smith in the end zone. He also deflected another pass intended for Smith that Rolle picked off.

DE Antonio Smith made a game changing play in the first quarter when he sacked Delhomme, swatted the ball to the ground and recovered at the Carolina 13 yard line. The Cardinals scored the go ahead touchdown two plays later and never looked back. DE Bertrand Berry also recorded a sack.

QB Jake Delhomme, Pass: 17 - 34 - 205 - 1 TD / 5 INT

Delhomme, who had a playoff record of 5--2 and QB rating of 95, only threw 12 interceptions all season but had five picked off by the Cardinals, two in the red zone. Only one pick could not be considered his fault, and Delhomme, as much as any one player can be, was primarily responsible for this defeat. He lost a fumble at the 13 yard line that set Arizona's go ahead touchdown and only hit Steve Smith on a short pass with less than minute for a meaningless touchdown. He finished with a QB rating of 39.1.

Delhomme once served as backup quarterback to Kurt Warner with the Amsterdam Admirals of the now defunct NFL Europe.

RB DeAngelo Williams, Rush: 12 - 63 - 0, Rec: 1 - 6 - 0 (2 targets)

On Carolina's opening drive of the game Williams found a cut back lane and dashed 31 yards to set up the first touchdown of the game. He was only able to pick up 32 more yards throughout the rest of the game, however, as the Arizona run defense settled down and kept him in check. As the Cardinal lead increased the Panthers felt compelled to try and pass the ball more frequently.

Williams led the league with 20 touchdowns and set a franchise record with 1,515 rushing yards. In week eight against Arizona, he rushed for 108 yards and a TD.

RB Jonathan Stewart, Rush: 3 - 12 - 1, Rec: 3 - 39 - 0 (4 targets)

Stewart scored the Panther's first touchdown on a nine yard run straight up the middle of the Arizona defense. Unfortunately, for the rest of the game he only gained three more yards. In the fourth quarter he was targeted four times and caught three passes for 39 yards.

Stewart finished his rookie campaign with 836 yards and ten rushing touchdowns.

RB Brad Hoover, Rec: 1 - 7 - 0 (1 targets)

Hoover caught a short pass for a first down on Carolina's opening drive.

WR Muhsin Muhammad, Rec: 5 - 55 - 0 (11 targets)

Muhammad was a key ingredient in Carolina's resurgence this season. While he led his team with eleven targets and five receptions for 55 yards they need him to be the complimentary back to Steve Smith. Muhammad had to fight through tight coverage and eight of his targets came in the second half. He is primarily their short yardage receiver, and while his biggest gain covered 20 yards he still only averaged 11 yards per reception.

WR Steve Smith, Rec: 2 - 43 - 1 (7 targets)

Steve Smith, who averaged over 100 receiving yards per game during the regular season, and has averaged over 100 receiving yards in every playoff game of his career, didn't make his first catch until there were 48 seconds left in the third quarter. The play covered 35 yards. When he caught his second pass and scored a TD with less than a minute to play in the game, only a handful of Panthers fans were left in the stands.

WR Dwayne Jarrett, Rec: 2 - 27 - 0 (3 targets)

Jarrett was target once each in the second, third, and fourth quarter. He caught two passes for a 13.5 average.

WR Mark Jones

Jones didn't play in the Carolina offense but he was probably the Panther's most effective offensive player. He helped set up their first touchdown when he ran back the game's opening kick to midfield and amassed a total of 151 yards on five kickoff returns.

TE Dante Rosario, Rec: 3 - 28 - 0 (4 targets)

Rosario caught his first pass on the Panthers' opening drive.

PK John Kasay 0 - 0 FG, 1 - 1 XP, 1 points

Kasay never attempted a field goal and converted is only extra point. When the Panthers scored their second touchdown with less than a minute in the game they went for two points.

CAR Rush Defense

While the Arizona running backs only averaged 3.4 yards per carry, Edgerrin James scored a touchdown on a four yard run and Tim Hightower scored on a three yard pass. In the fourth quarter, Hightower carried 13 times and took over the game, finishing with a 4.5 yard per carry and a long run of 17. With the Cardinal passing attack one of the most dangerous in the NFL, even without Anquan Boldin, not enough attention was paid to controlling the line of scrimmage.

CAR Pass Defense

Damione Lewis was able to sack Warner in the first quarter but it was the only time the Panthers got to him. Larry Fitzgerald was left alone on crossing patterns and was able to beat double teams down the field as he gained 155 yards on six passes and scored a touchdown in the first half alone. In the second half the Cardinals were less inclined to throw the ball.

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