Panthers defense sets tone early, never looks back in win over Cardinals

Nov 14, 2021, 7:10 PM | Updated: Nov 15, 2021, 7:42 am
Arizona Cardinals quarterback Colt McCoy flips over after fumbling the ball to the Carolina Panther...

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Colt McCoy flips over after fumbling the ball to the Carolina Panthers during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 14, 2021, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ralph Freso)

(AP Photo/Ralph Freso)

GLENDALE — Despite not having starters Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins, the Arizona Cardinals’ confidence level entering Week 10’s matchup against the Carolina Panthers was still relatively high.

That’ll happen when you roll out your backup quarterback against a divisional foe in Week 9 and put up 31 points like it was nothing.

The momentum the team was riding, however, quickly dissipated against a stout Carolina defense led by former Cardinal Haason Reddick.

Using a similar blueprint offensively, the Cardinals got a very different result in the 34-10 thrashing at State Farm Stadium.

“[We gotta fix] everything, everything,” head coach Kliff Kingsbury said after the game. “Wasn’t good enough on any level, in any phase. We can play a lot better and we just didn’t. We can coach a lot better as well.”

Things went haywire in a hurry for Arizona on Sunday to say the least.

Sticking with what worked last week, Colt McCoy kicked off the team’s first drive of the afternoon dinking and dunking, connecting with Zach Ertz and A.J. Green for a total of five yards on the first two plays from scrimmage.

Looking to avoid an early three-and-out, McCoy stepped back to pass yet again, but was instead met in the backfield by Reddick. The linebacker blew up the play from the jump, forcing a strip-sack deep in Arizona’s own territory. Just like that, Carolina was in business.

Five plays later, recently signed Panthers signal-caller Cam Newton took his first touch in for a touchdown from two yards out.

Things snowballed from there, with all of the Cardinals’ momentum zapped out of State Farm Stadium with just minutes off the clock.

The Cardinals’ second drive of the day didn’t go any better.

Slogging along with short passes and small runs, Arizona was left with a 4th-and-1 look at its own 41-yard line to keep the drive alive.

Instead of handing off to bullying running back James Conner, McCoy attempted to pick up the yard on the QB sneak, but instead was met behind the line of scrimmage for the one-yard loss and turnover on downs.

“That’s how we’ve been since I’ve been here, when we get in those fourth-and-short situations we’re going to be aggressive and we’ve been successful this year,” Kingsbury said. “Unfortunately it was a bad play call and you gotta give them credit, they stuffed it.”

The Panthers cashed in on the stop four plays later behind a two-yard touchdown pass from Newton to wide receiver Robby Anderson.

Even when it looked like the Cardinals had gotten things back on the right track offensively, a miscue would flip momentum right back in the Panthers’ favor.

Looking to respond to an unanswered 14-0 start, McCoy to the air yet again, this time connecting with wide receiver Christian Kirk for a pair of chunk plays that sent a sudden jolt throughout the stadium.

But just as McCoy was starting to settle in, an overthrow to 6-foot-4 wideout Antoine Wesley turned into a Carolina interception, quickly dashing any sort of momentum Arizona had manufactured on the drive.

“I don’t think anyone lost confidence. I think first and foremost, I gotta play better,” McCoy said after the game. “Any time you get in the hole 14 points, it’s tough to dig out against a defense like that. We had some things, we just didn’t capitalize on them. One guy made a mistake here, one guy made a mistake here, I made a mistake throwing back across my body. I can’t do that. I know way better than that.

“All those little things kinda compiled on us and we just dug ourselves a giant hole we couldn’t get out of. A lot of that starts with me and I gotta play a lot better.”

With no answers offensively, on top of a lackluster performance from the defense, Arizona watched Carolina’s lead balloon to 23-0 at halftime.

Arizona was outproduced 249-62 in total offense, with McCaffrey singlehandedly outgaining the Cardinals 129-62. Arizona’s third-down conversion rate was shot as well, picking up a first down on just one of its six tries in the half.

“We started the game turnover, turnover on downs — bad call by me there — and then an interception and it kinda got sideways,” Kingsbury said after the game. “We weren’t able to get back into it.

“I thought they played harder, they played faster and they just had a great plan in all three phases and just really beat us up.”

The second half looked a lot like the first, though the Cardinals would finally get on the scoreboard in the third quarter thanks to a Matt Prater 47-yard field goal.

A Conner touchdown in the fourth quarter with the game seemingly out of reach was the team’s only visit to pay dirt over the course of four quarters. Conner rushed for 39 yards and the score on 10 carries, while catching three balls for 25 yards in the loss.

“Not everything’s gonna be peaches and cream,” offensive lineman Kelvin Beachum said postgame. “It’s not gonna pleasant. Sometimes you gotta find a way to battle through the adversity.

“We haven’t had a lot of adversity this year and we haven’t been dominant at home. Those things got exposed today. But just keeping things in perspective is the most important thing.”

And as if nothing else could go wrong on Sunday, the Cardinals would end up finishing the game without McCoy, who left in the third quarter with a pectoral injury and did not return. He finished with 107 yards and the pick on 11-of-20 passing (55%).

After the game, the signal-caller said tests were still ongoing but seemed optimistic, a good sign on an otherwise dreadful night.

The Cardinals already knew what a loss felt like entering play Sunday. The letdown of losing that first game has already passed.

But after a defeat like this, Arizona will need to have a short memory and a locked-in week of practice before a trip to Seattle in Week 11.

“They know next week, division game up in Seattle will be a tremendous atmosphere and tremendous challenge,” Kingsbury said. “I expect our guys to practice a lot better and play a lot better and we got to coach a lot better.”

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