Turnovers. Muffed punts. Missed tackles. Dropped passes. Blown coverage.
Just about everything that could have gone wrong for the Arizona Cardinals did go wrong in their 49-15 loss at the Carolina Panthers in Sunday night's NFC Championship game.
The Cardinals enjoyed their best regular season in franchise history, but their run ended with a disappointing thud thanks to Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, Carolina wide receiver/former Cardinal Ted Ginn and an incalculable number of mental mistakes by the Bird Gang.
These pair of tweets sum things up well.
42 points for the Panthers is the most scored by a team in an NFC Championship since the AFL/NFL merger. pic.twitter.com/7zpwJO7Rii
— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) January 25, 2016
Just like we all expected, Ted Ginn has more receiving yards (52) than Michael Floyd, John Brown and Larry Fitzgerald combined (40).
— Will Brinson (@WillBrinson) January 25, 2016
Here are three big takeaways from this one.
1. Palmer doesn’t get the job done
Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer looked shaky, to say the least, in the Cards’ win over the Packers last weekend, his first career postseason victory. Cards coach Bruce Arians expected Palmer to shake off those nerves in time for Sunday’s game, but that wasn’t the case, as Palmer had his worst outing of the season in Charlotte.
Palmer’s three first-half turnovers, including an interception in the end zone that would have gotten Arizona back in the game shortly before halftime, did the Cards in. His committed a mind-boggling six turnovers on the day and was fortunate that number wasn't higher.
The question now is whether Palmer will be able to overcome this performance from a mental perspective. The 13th-year pro had an outstanding regular season, but with the two performances he turned in during this playoff season, can he recover if and when he leads to the playoffs next season or beyond?
2. Peterson’s muff changes everything
The Cardinals fell behind 17-0 in the first quarter Sunday but had an outstanding chance to get back in the game... until Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson’s unthinkable error.
Midway through the second quarter, the Cards had just scored a touchdown off a David Johnson run and forced the Panthers to punt. Peterson unwisely came up to field the short punt and took his eyes off the ball. Carolina recovered Peterson’s muff in Cardinal territory and scored a touchdown six plays later to go ahead 24-7 and, as it turned out, put the game out of reach.
Peterson had an outstanding season, and to remember it simply for that gaffe wouldn't be fair. Nonetheless, the Cards needed their stars to make big plays in the NFC Championship game, and Peterson (among others) simply didn’t get the job done.
3. Looking ahead…
Cards fans don’t want to hear it right now – heck, I don’t want to write it right now – but this team seems to be set up for another playoff run next season. All-Pro safety Tyrann Mathieu should make a full recovery from his late-season ACL tear, and the Cards will have plenty of weapons returning on both sides of the ball. In particular, rookie running back David Johnson, who had 60 yards rushing and 68 yards receiving Sunday, is a star in the making.
One thing the Cardinals do need, however, is a pass rusher. The Cars struggled throughout both of their playoff games in getting any pressure on Packers QB Aaron Rodgers and Panthers QB Cam Newton. Arizona should seriously consider drafting a player who can get to the quarterback, or grab an elite player in free agency if available.
But again, the big question in my mind is Carson Palmer. There’s no doubt he can come back and be an efficient QB for the Cardinals next season… but when the playoffs roll around, will Carson be able to shake off the memories of these last two games?