Cat Gets the Bird in Panthers 27-23 Win Over Arizona

The Carolina Panthers celebrated their 15th anniversary in true Cardiac Cat fashion, winning a nail-biter over the Arizona Cardinals to remain undefeated at Bank of America Stadium. “We will see them boys again, down the road, they were that good”, said Carolina defensive tackle Damione Lewis after the game; yes, the Cardinals seemed poised to finally get that elusive road win on the East Coast, but the Panthers found a way to get it done, honoring their house on their birthday.

It was an uncharacteristically warm October afternoon in Charlotte, and it was a cool first half for Carolina and Arizona; the Panthers managed to keep the ball for a little over 2 minutes with their opening possession, turning the ball over on downs. The Cardinals’ first drive fared much better, as they kept the chains moving for almost 7 minutes, ending with a Neil Rackers field goal to put the first points on the board.

Panther DE Tyler Brayton was in large part the reason that the top-ranked passing offense was held to a field goal instead of what looked liked to be a routine TD for Kurt Warner & Co.: he stopped Egerrin James on 2nd and goal, and then with safety Chris Harris, managed to stuff red-zone threat Tim Hightower on 3rd and goal.

Carolina signed ex-Raider Brayton in the offseason, and he has quietly been making a “new” name for himself. Brayton was a former second-round pick for Oakland, and had been deemed somewhat of a bust, although many think he was never given time to get acclimated in any of the positions he was tried in. Out to make a fresh start in Carolina, he seems to be doing just that… he has been in on many key plays this season, and is proving that opposing teams need to think of him as well as his counterpart, Julius Peppers.

Arizona took a commanding 10-0 lead in the second quarter, after WLB Karlos Dansby rushed in untouched to strip the ball from Jake Delhomme. Not surprisingly, it took all of one play for the Cardinals to capitalize on the turnover, with a 5-yarder to Anquan Boldin for the score. Boldin made a gallant return after taking a horrific hit in the beginning of October, requiring eight plates inserted in his face, and his jaw cut, realigned, and wired. He let everyone know he was back with 7 carries for 115 yards, and two touchdowns. I thought the New Orleans Saints’ offense had an embarrassment of riches, but please… Warner, Boldin, Larry Fitzgerald, and now Steve Breaston – along with Edgerrin James, Tim Hightower and J.J. Arrington to boot, these Cardinals ain’t foolin’ around.

Kicker John Kasay put three points up for Carolina late in the second quarter, but that’s all they could muster for the half, as the offense just kept stuttering. Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt tried some trickery with a fake field goal, but fortunately for Carolina, rookie safety Charles Godfrey was alert and picked up on holder Dirk Johnson’s pass to Jerame Tuman, tackling him at the 10 yard line.

The Cardinals took a 17-3 lead on their first possession of the second half, with rookie sensation Tim Hightower rushing for his 6th touchdown. However it didn’t take long for Carolina to strike back, starting a shootout between the two former teammates of the Amsterdam Admirals, Kurt Warner and Jake Delhomme. Both were stars of the now-defunct NFL Europa, and the two QBs share rags-to-riches stories of coming from the veritable minor leagues of the NFL to both starring in Super Bowls.

The Panthers closed the gap to one possession, after a 6-play, 80 yard drive that concluded with a 15-yard TD up the middle for DeAngelo Williams. The third-year vet ran hard all day against the stout Arizona defense, compiling 108 yards on 17 carries. Rookie running back Jonathan Stewart had a tougher time of it, with being held to a paltry 10 yards on 8 rushes.

The Panthers scored again, 46 seconds later, after Maake Kemoeatu stripped Edgerrin James on the ensuing Arizona drive. If you are a Panthers fan, or just a fan of the game altogether, watch for Kemoeatu; after #99 makes a good play, he dances around with the unadulterated joy of a little boy at Christmas, and it is a sight to behold. It will remind you why you watch the game.

Ageless Kurt Warner hooked up with Anquan Boldin again, but the Cardinals missed out on the two-point conversion run, garnering only six points, which would come back to haunt them later.

The Panthers responded quickly with their own score, on an unbelievable 65-yard TD from Steve Smith. Smith fought off two tacklers trying to push him out, and very adeptly managed to keep the heel of his foot in the air to stay inbounds; this is why Smith is one of the best in the NFL.

Warner marched his Cardinals down the field, only to be intercepted by MLB Jon Beason. The beast in the middle for Carolina returned it 44 yards, setting up an historic field goal by John Kasay. The only original Panther left, Kasay is now tied with Jan Stenerud for 8th on the NFL’s all-time field-goals-made list.

That spelled the end for Arizona; had they gotten the extra point earlier, they could have tied the game with a field goal; but the proud Carolina defense would not have given them the opportunity anyway.

In the waning minutes of the 4th quarter, the Panthers were in danger of turning the ball back over to Warner; but on 3rd & 13, DeAngelo Williams pounded the rock up the middle for the 1st down, and Carolina’s undefeated streak at home remains in tact.

Kudos to Anquan Boldin in his courageous return; the pro did not miss a step. And those Arizona Cardinals are the real deal, folks… just ask Damione Lewis.

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