NFL wild card: Carolina dispatches Arizona
The Associated Press
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Cam Newton finally has his first playoff victory — with a big assist from his defense.
The fourth-year quarterback threw for 198 yards and two touchdowns, Carolina’s defense set an NFL record for fewest yards allowed in a postseason game, and the Panthers defeated the Arizona Cardinals 27-16 on Saturday.
It was Carolina’s first playoff win in nine years and Newton’s first playoff victory since entering the league as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 draft.
Jonathan Stewart ran for 123 yards and a touchdown on a rain-soaked afternoon.
The Panthers held Arizona to 78 yards, intercepted Ryan Lindley twice and sacked him four times. Carolina had 386 yards.
The Panthers (8-8-1) will play at top-seeded Seattle next weekend if Dallas beats Detroit on Sunday. If the Lions win, the Panthers play at Green Bay.
After a 9-1 start, Arizona’s once promising season was undone by a rash of injuries, including to quarterbacks Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton.
The New York Giants held the previous NFL record for fewest yards in a postseason game, holding Cleveland to 86 yards on Dec. 21, 1958.
It appeared the Panthers wouldn’t get the record, but Arizona began lateraling the ball around the field on the final play and lost 19 yards.
It was a fitting end to Arizona’s offensive struggles. The Cardinals managed 12 yards in the second half and had eight first downs for the game.
Trailing by one at halftime the Panthers scored two touchdowns in a span of 1 minute, 32 seconds late in the third quarter to take control.
Rookie running back Fozzy Whittaker caught a pass in the flat from Newton, reversed fields and got a key block from Kelvin Benjamin to spring him for a 39-yard touchdown.
On the ensuing kickoff, Melvin White stripped returner Ted Ginn Jr., a former Panther, at the Arizona 3 and Kevin Reddick recovered for Carolina. A pass interference penalty on Tony Jefferson on third down gave Carolina a new set of downs, and Newton took advantage. He found wide-open fullback Mike Tolbert in the left flat for a 1-yard touchdown and a 27-14 lead.
The Cardinals (11-6) had one last chance to get in the game when Newton was hit from behind and Rashad Johnson recovered the ball and returned it to the Carolina 8. But All-Pro Luke Kuechly ruined any chance of an Arizona comeback when he stepped in front Larry Fitzgerald and intercepted Lindley’s pass at the 5.
Carolina outgained Arizona 208-65 in the first half, but entered the locker room trailing 14-13 after two costly turnovers led to two Cardinals touchdowns.
The Panthers were in complete control when Stewart put his team up 10-0 with a nifty, spinning 13-yard run and the defense came up with three stops to start the game.
But the momentum turned when Carolina punt returner Brenton Bersin inexplicably crouched down on the soggy field like a shortstop, only to have the ball bounce off his right thigh.
Arizona’s Justin Bethel recovered at the Carolina 30. The Cardinals cashed in six plays later on a 1-yard pass from Lindley to a wide-open Darren Fells in the back of the end zone after the Panthers bit on a play-action fake. It was Fells’ first career touchdown catch.
Later in the second quarter, Newton avoided pressure and threw toward Jerricho Cotchery, who turned inside while the pass went outside. Newton pointed at him in frustration after Antonio Cromartie returned the interception 50 yards.
Arizona made it 14-10 on a 1-yard run by rookie Marion Grace. The score was initially ruled a fumble but overturned when officials reviewed the play and realized the ball had broken the plane of the goal line.
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