The fourth seed Carolina Panthers beat the fifth seed Arizona Cardinals in the first NFL playoff game of 2015, 27-16. Carolina’s defense smothered Arizona’s play makers, and prevented the Cardinals offense from moving down the field. While the Panthers’ offensive attack did just enough to beat the Cardinals in Charlotte, N.C.
Carolina won the last three games of the regular season to capture the NFC South crown and reach the playoffs. The Panthers were able to win out thanks to outstanding play by their defense. And it was that same defensive unit that played a big role in Carolina’s victory over Arizona in the first round of the playoffs, including the last play of the game.
Despite being down by 13 points, the Cardinals kept trying to drive the ball down field. Quarterback Ryan Lindley led the Cardinals offense down the field, before throwing a lob pass near the end zone that was easily intercepted by Tre Boston to give the Panthers the ball with the chance to kill the clock. The interception was Lindley’s second of the game.
Arizona actually led 14-13 at half time, but a couple of Cam Newton touchdown passes (within two minutes of each other) put Carolina in control of the ball game.
On the first touchdown pass, Newton found running back Fozzy Whittaker on a 10-yard in route. Whittaker used his agility to get past the initial tackler, before turning on the jets and taking the ball 39-yards to the end zone. The Whittaker touchdown was a perfect example of the poor tackling that had plagued Arizona all night.
The second touchdown pass came one play after a controversial defensive pass interference call on 3rd and goal at the Arizona three-yard line; safety Tony Jefferson put his hand on tight end Greg Olson’s shoulder as Olson was jumping for the pass. Carolina received an automatic first down, and three more downs, as a result of the penalty. Newton only needed one play to find fullback Mike Tolbert for the one-yard touchdown.
Arizona was unable to get anything going offensively in this ball game, as the Cardinals earned only 78 total yards — the lowest total yardage in the history of the NFL Playoffs. Lindley struggled to make decisions under duress, as Carolina constantly kept up the pressure on the Cardinals’ third-string quarterback. His two interceptions, especially the one at the end of the game, put an end to the two drives that Arizona had managed to put together up to that point.
For Carolina, this was the franchise’s first playoff win since the 2005 season — that playoff run ended with a loss to Seattle in the NFC Championship game. This win is also the first playoff win in Netwon’s young career; this win comes a couple of weeks after a car accident that injured his back. Newton played okay in the game, despite being consistently harassed by the Arizona defense
If Dallas beats Detroit on Sunday, the Panthers will be traveling to Seattle, Wash. to face the first seed Seattle Seahawks. But if Detroit wins, Carolina will be headed to Lambeau Field to take on the Green Bay Packers.