Arizona Cardinals rout Carolina Panthers 33-13

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Cardinals heard enough about what they couldn't do.

Saturday night, they showed what they could do.

And the Panthers have a long offseason to figure out what happened.

In a game that went nothing like forecast, Arizona continued its surprising season with a surprisingly easy win over second-seeded Carolina 33-13 in an NFC division round playoff game.

Playing without Pro Bowl receiver Anquan Boldin, playing as nearly double-digit underdogs, playing in the East, where they hadn't won all season, playing a first-place team from a supposedly tough division, playing against postseason ace Jake Delhomme, the Cardinals played like champs.

And now they will play in their first NFC Championship Game, either against the Giants at the Meadowlands or at home against the Eagles.

"Not a lot of people have had very many nice things to say about us or have given us a chance," coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "So we're working hard to try to earn some respect."

But maybe not too much.

"We always want to be the underdog,"' defensive end Antonio Smith said. "Being the underdog is the place to be."

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, the Bradenton rookie who continued his sensational season by making one interception and helping on another, said the Cardinals thrive on it.

"We just use that as momentum to play harder," he said.

With Boldin out, the Cardinals figured to, obviously, lean even more heavily on Pro Bowl receiver Larry Fitzgerald, and the Panthers couldn't figure out what to do about it.

The Cardinals moved Fitz­gerald around and put him in motion to prevent double coverage. And he had a huge day, catching eight passes for 166 yards (six for 151 in the first half) and a touchdown.

"When you get into the playoffs, you have to have your best players make plays, and Larry did that," Whisenhunt said.

More impressive was what the Arizona defense did.

They held big-talking Steve Smith to two catches, shut down Carolina's vaunted ground game, intercepted Delhomme — who entered with a 95.0 postseason passer rating that was third best all-time — five times, forced a fumble and made his 34th birthday absolutely miserable.

"I'm at a loss for words, and usually I'm not," Delhomme said. "For some reason, I just didn't give us a chance tonight. I wish I could give you better answers, but I can't. I should get the blame."

After the Panthers rolled down the field for the first touchdown, their Double Trouble running back tandem of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart leading the way, they were in trouble as the Cardinals scored 33 straight points.

Whisenhunt said he was proudest of how his team responded after getting behind early.

"I was a little worried early because they ripped off a couple runs on us. But our defense calmed down, and that was one of the things we haven't done this year," he said. "You can't give our defense enough credit."

A Bank of America Stadium crowd of 73,695, which spent the day throughout the city partying and preparing, instead booed the home team and left early on the cold and damp night.

Unexpected, unlikely and undaunted, just like a baseball team near you, the Cardinals are still rolling.

"We're very excited to be playing next week," Whisenhunt said.

Cardinals 33

Panthers 13

Unhappy birthday to you

Panthers QB Jake Delhomme's 34th birthday was Saturday. After his six-turnover performance, he surely wants to forget it:

FIRST QUARTER

2:43, 1-10, Car 20: Fumble, recovered at Car 13. Result: Two plays, 4-yard TD run, 14-7 Ariz.

SECOND QUARTER

15:00, 2-9, Ariz 14: Int. at Ariz 1, returned 19 yards to Ariz 20. Result: Nine plays, 49-yard FG, 17-7 Ariz.

5:22, 1-10, Car 38: Int. at 50, returned to Car 44. Result: Three plays, 29-yard TD pass, 27-7 Ariz.

THIRD QUARTER

8:06, 2-16, Ariz 37: Int. at Ariz 27, returned 47 yards to Car 26. Result: Six plays, 33-yard FG, 30-7 Ariz.

FOURTH QUARTER

14:11, 3-13, Ariz 17: Int. in end zone (touchback). Result: 6 plays, punt.

10:54, 2-10, Car 43: Int. at 50. Result: 13 plays, 20-yard FG, 33-7 Ariz.

Arizona Cardinals rout Carolina Panthers 33-13 01/10/09 [Last modified: Sunday, January 11, 2009 9:23pm]

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