A season held together by snippets of athletic tape is over for the Arizona Cardinals.
The Redbirds lost to the Carolina Panthers 27-16 at Bank of America Stadium in the NFC Wild Card playoff game Saturday. They did so while playing technically their fourth-string quarterback and numerous backups on both sides of the ball.
Yet the loss can’t entirely be blamed on backup Ryan Lindley. Though he was 16-of-28 for only 82 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions, the Cardinals’ run game and special teams were just as detrimental to Arizona’s success.
Running backs Marion Grice, Stepfan Taylor and Kerwynn Williams combined for only 27 yards on the ground.
Punter Drew Butler handed Carolina prime field position with an average of 34.8 yards per punt on nine attempts.
The Cardinals had previously overcome a 10-point deficit early in the game thanks to Darren Fells, who grabbed a 1-yard touchdown pass, and Marion Grice’s 1-yard touchdown run.
The touchdowns gave Arizona the lead at the half, 14-13. But Cam Newton and his offense scored two touchdowns in less than two minutes for 14 unanswered third-quarter points.
The Cardinals then had one more shot at keeping their playoff hopes alive after Newton was hit from behind by Sam Acho and the ensuing fumble was recovered by Rashad Johnson.
Yet Lindley threw a pick straight into the arms of Carolina’s Luke Kuechly at the 5-yard line to seal it early in the fourth quarter. He’d throw one more pick, this one deflected by Keuchly into the arms of Tre Boston to essentially end it.
The “Next Man Up” mentality that carried the Cardinals to a 9-1 start has now become “Next Season Up.”
What did Arizona’s season-ending loss look like, by the numbers?
Carolina out-produced Arizona by a whopping margin of 386 offensive yards to 78.
Arizona’s yardage is an NFL-playoff record low. The previous low had been held by the 1958 Cleveland Browns (86).
Newton was 18-of-32 for 198 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Running back Jonathan Stewart ran for 122 yards and a touchdown.
The Cardinals managed a total of eight first downs throughout the entire game. They also only managed to convert on 3-of-12 third down attempts.
Arizona’s average of 1.7 yards per play is a season low and also lower than all but one of the Carolina rushing corps’ average yardage per carry.
Carolina’s two unanswered touchdowns came with some help from Arizona kick returner Ted Ginn Jr., who was stripped at the 3-yard-line by the Panthers’ Melvin White.
Then, Arizona’s Tony Jefferson was called for pass interference on third down. Newton threw his second touchdown in under two minutes to Mike Tolbert on the ensuing set of downs.
The Cardinals managed just 12 second-half yards.
Lindley was sacked four times for a loss of 31 yards. Newton was sacked just once.
In Arizona’s last matchup against the Panthers on Oct. 6 last season, the Cardinals’ pass rush sacked Newton seven times, forcing the quarterback to complete just 10-of-20 passes with three interceptions.
Arizona ends its season at 11-6 after starting 9-1.
Carolina began the season 3-8-1, and has now won five straight, including its first playoff win in nine years. They’ll head to No. 1 Seattle next week if Dallas beats Detroit Sun. If not, the Panthers will face Green Bay at Lambeau.