Cardinals advance to NFC title game - East Valley Tribune: News

Cardinals advance to NFC title game

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Posted: Saturday, January 10, 2009 6:55 pm | Updated: 2:51 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — In the NFL, Cinderella has a graybeard quarterback, a receiver with long braided hair and a kicker who thinks he’s a linebacker. And, oh yes, there’s a phenomenal rookie in the mix, too.

SLIDESHOW: Cardinals vs. Panthers

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — In the NFL, Cinderella has a graybeard quarterback, a receiver with long braided hair and a kicker who thinks he’s a linebacker. And, oh yes, there’s a phenomenal rookie in the mix, too.

Bordow: Believe it! Cards bury history, Panthers in rout

Fitzgerald shreds Panthers

SLIDESHOW: Cardinals vs. Panthers

Cards notebook: Front 7 shut down Panthers’ ground game

In what has become the best Cinderella story in Valley sports since the Suns squeaked into the playoffs in 1976 and then made an amazing run to the NBA Finals, the Cardinals destroyed the Carolina Panthers, 33-13 in an NFC divisional playoff game Saturday night.

The Cardinals next will play the winner of today’s New York Giants-Philadelphia game for the NFC championship, an exotic level the team has never explored while in Arizona.

If Philadelphia wins, the Cards would host the game that sends a team to the Super Bowl.

• The graybeard: Kurt Warner, who completed 21-for-32 passes for 220 yards and two touchdowns, with just one turnover for the Cards.

“Wow! What an effort by this whole team,” Warner said after leaving the jubilant Cardinals’ locker room.

“Man, it’s exciting to be where we’re at!”

• The receiver: Larry Fitzgerald, who made a mockery of a soft Panthers pass defense, even though standout receiver Anquan Boldin had to sit out with a hamstring injury.

In finding huge gaps in the secondary, Fitzgerald had 151 yards receiving – a franchise playoff record – in the first half, when the game was contested.

That was more than double the Panthers’ entire first-half output of 70 yards.

“It’s nice to have Kurt,” Fitzgerald said. “You can lean on him all the time. He has great experience.

“He tells you exactly what it’s going to take. We’re just following his lead.”

Fitzgerald finished with 166 yards on eight catches and a TD.

• The rookie: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, on his way to becoming one of the great draft picks in franchise history, took superstar receiver Steve Smith out of the game.

• The kicker: Neil Rackers played a huge role in the game with four field goals and an assortment of kickoffs that ranged from line-drive knuckleballs to short “pooch” kicks.

Rackers set a record in the Cardinals’ relatively brief playoff history by booting home a 49-yard field goal, one that cleared the cross bar by a few feet, early in the second quarter to give the Cardinals a 17-7 lead.

He hit a 30-yarder later in the quarter to make it 20-7.

Then, on the kickoff, Rackers tackled returner Mark Jones, who otherwise might have run for a touchdown.

Rackers’ tackle was made even more important on the next play.

The Panthers’ Jake Delhomme threw a short pass over the middle right to linebacker Gerald Hayes at midfield.

Three plays later, Warner hit Fitzgerald over the middle. Then he raced around the right end and dove for the pylon for another score.

Meanwhile, the Cardinals’ defense shut down the Panthers’ running attack, one of the NFL’s best.

That forced Delhomme to carry a load he couldn’t handle.

Delhomme threw five interceptions, effectively taking the Panthers out of any chance of making it a game.

“I’m at a loss for words,” Delhomme said.

“For one reason or another, I didn’t give us a chance.”

Fans started drifting toward the exits after his third interception.

On a play in which Rodgers-Cromartie appeared to get away with a quick hold on Steve Smith, the pass ended up as an interception by Antrel Rolle.

His return of 47 yards to the Panthers’ 26-yard line set up another Rackers field goal.

That made it 30-7.

Cornerback Ralph Brown came up with yet another errant Delhomme pass, marking the backup’s third straight game with an interception.

This one came in the end zone in the opening moments of the fourth quarter, when the Panthers had a chance to cut the lead to 30-14.

And that was that — the Cardinals had their biggest win in 21 seasons in Arizona.

EXTRA POINTS: Tight end Stephen Spach went down with a right knee sprain in the opening moments of the fourth quarter. If he’s hurt seriously, the Cardinals would be down to Leonard Pope and Ben Patrick at tight end; both have had quiet seasons.

Shortly after Rod Hood came up with the Cardinals’ sixth turnover, an interception with 11 minutes left, the stadium emptied out.

The Cardinals’ five interceptions set a postseason franchise record. The previous mark was three vs. Dallas in 1999.

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