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Cardinals and Panthers are different, but memory of last meeting still fresh

Arizona Cardinals' Larry Fitzgerald stands with his teammates before the NFL football NFC Championship game against the Carolina Panthers, Sunday, Jan. 24, 2016, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Mike McCarn)

TEMPE, Ariz. — The last time the Arizona Cardinals went to North Carolina to play the Carolina Panthers, a chance to play in the Super Bowl was on the table.

It was very quickly removed.

The Cardinals got the ball first and went three-and-out, and by the time the first quarter was over they trailed 17-0. A handful of fumbles, sacks, interceptions, muffed punts and missed tackles the rest of the way led to a final score of 49-15 and, just like that, Arizona’s Super Bowl dreams were shattered.

Good times, it was not.

Thinking of that night, Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald said the Panthers “thoroughly, thoroughly whipped our ass” when they last met, and that is fresh on their minds.

The memory of that game — and its aftermath — could not be ignored this week.

“Coach didn’t say anything about it,” Fitzgerald said. “He doesn’t have to say anything about it. I’ve been to Johannesburg, straight, 18-hour flight; I’ve been to Thailand, that was like a 17-hour flight, but the flight from Carolina back to Phoenix last (January), that was the longest flight I’ve ever been on before, and it was only about four hours.

“Those type of things, you just don’t forget those.”

Of course, a win Sunday at Bank of America Stadium would not erase that memory — not even close.

“No — the only way really to feel any different is to win it all, feel the confetti fall on our shoulders,” defensive lineman Calais Campbell said. “If that doesn’t happen, then it doesn’t matter. Beating the team — I wish we could have beat them then — but now, going forward, this game just matters for 2016. That’s all it matters for.”

While a trip to the Super Bowl is not officially on the line, in some ways it seems like it.

For the Cardinals, who are 3-3-1, a loss would make their path to the playoffs exponentially more difficult. And for the 1-5 Panthers, one more defeat — at home following a bye week — might just be the final nail in their playoff coffin.

So while the previous meeting provides an interesting backdrop and a nice storyline leading into the game, as Campbell also noted, much of their focus on that cold Charlotte evening has more to do with seeing how the Panthers played them, for scouting purposes.

Even that can only take them so far, though.

“They’re a little bit different, we’re a little bit different,” Cardinals defensive coordinator James Bettcher said. “I think one thing that we have is we have enough guys that went there and experienced the disappointment of what happened in Carolina.

“So we will not, have not forgotten that.”

These certainly are not the same teams that matched up some nine months ago, with the Panthers’ defense struggling and the Cardinals’ offense struggling to come up with big plays down the field.

“Not really,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said when asked if his team may have an advantage based on what transpired the last time they met. “Two different teams. That’s the thing that I think everybody’s got to look at is we’re completely different teams. They didn’t have Tyrann Mathieu the first time we played them, so different teams.”

“It’s the same venue obviously,” Cardinals QB Carson Palmer said of the return to Charlotte. “The team’s different. There are a lot of young guys on the outside. The same core group of guys up front, but they’re playing a little bit different. I’m not sure what’s happening on their offense’s side of the ball, but defensively it looks a little different.”

Still, Palmer admitted he sees this game as offering a little bit of a chance at redemption, but went on to point out that regardless of what happened last season, this specific game means plenty for this year.

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said he understands the game means more to the players who were part of last season’s game, though that only goes so far.

“But this team, right now, is in a totally different place than when we went over there last year for the championship, and hopefully we can go somewhere else for the championship,” he said. “But this is next week’s game, no more, no less. We’ve got to win.”

You don’t have to have been a Cardinal last season to understand that, as linebacker Chandler Jones, who is in his first season with the team, said he can tell this game means a lot to the players who were part of the loss.

“It does mean a lot to me, being a new addition to the team,” he added. “Hopefully we can get after those guys a little bit.”

Whether a player was in the game, at the game or just watched it on TV, its impact has gone beyond just that night or the ensuing Super Bowl. For at least one week, it serves as a bitter memory and perhaps even extra motivation for a team that never wants to experience anything like that again.

“It was very, very devastating,” cornerback Patrick Peterson said of the last meeting with Carolina. “It was a long ride, disappointing ride back home, because we put everything into that season last year and we were oh-so-close.

“We have to try to do it again this year. We haven’t won there in the last two trips up there; it’s a very big game for us and them. They’re trying to get their second win to turn their season around, we’re trying to get our fourth to stay in the middle of the pack, to stay in the hunt. So it’s a big game for both teams, but we’re definitely trying to go back there and get that bad taste out of our mouth.”

Stories for pre-game reading

Last week’s tie instilled some confidence in the Cardinals

Cardinals receiver Chris Hubert had to leave his job with UPS after getting a call from the team

Slow starts for the Panthers and Cardinals have belied the preseason expectations for both

The Cardinals expect to see Cam run in Sunday’s game

Chandler Jones and Calais Campbell have been wreaking havoc this season

At least defensively, the Cardinals have found their swagger

Receiver John Brown, who is managing a sickle cell trait, felt good after a week of practice


– The Cardinals have allowed nine points over their last two games, and no touchdowns in what essentially amounts to nine quarters (eight quarters plus one overtime).

– The Cardinals have not won a regular season game in Charlotte since 2002, though they did beat the Panthers on the road in the 2008 playoffs.

– The Cardinals are 27-7 against non-division opponents under Bruce Arians.

– If the Cardinals can keep the Panthers out of the end zone, it would give them three straight games without allowing a touchdown and mark just the second time in 78 years where the team went three consecutive games without allowing a touchdown.

– The Cardinals have gone three consecutive games without turning the ball over, and have not had a turnover in five of their seven contests.

– With 54 receiving yards, Larry Fitzgerald would pass Cris Carter for 12th place on the NFL’s all-time receiving yardage list.

– If David Johnson runs for at least 88 yards, he will set a new franchise record for rushing yards in the first eight games of a season. If he notches at least 100 rushing yards, he would become the first player in franchise history to reach the century mark in four straight games.

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