After wild victory, Cardinals eye tough Panthers
TEMPE, Ariz. — His first playoff victory as an NFL head coach behind him, Arizona’s Bruce Arians turned his attention to Carolina and the challenge of facing the powerful Panthers on the road.
"It’s kind of like back in college, getting ready for the wishbone," Arians said on Monday.
"You don’t see the quarterback in this league run (with that) power very often. So they give you so many different, unique sets that you have to account for."
Basically, a team has to defend two running backs, and trying to tackle Cam Newton, Arians said, is like trying to take down a tight end.
Plus Newton is "throwing the ball down the field extremely accurately right now, and (with) a lot of confidence," Arians said.
Arians called Newton "a very special guy and the things you can do with him, because he’s so big and strong, you don’t have to worry about getting hurt running the football with him."
The Cardinals plan a 30-play walk-through on Tuesday, then a regular practice schedule the next three days in advance of Sunday’s NFC championship game.
Asked what impressed him most about the Panthers’ 31-24 victory over Seattle on Sunday, Arians said, "how fast they started — the passion, the energy they came out with."
Carolina took a 31-0 halftime lead, but had to hold off a Seahawks’ second-half surge.
The Cardinals, meanwhile, persevered through a bizarre series of events to pull out a 26-20 overtime victory over Green Bay on Saturday night, setting up a matchup of the top two seeds in the NFC this weekend.
Aaron Rodgers completed what amounted to two desperation passes to Jeff Janis in the final minute, one a 60-yard gain on fourth-and-20 from the Packers 4-yard line, followed by a 41-yarder to tie the game on the final play of regulation.
Then came the coin flip, repeated because it didn’t flip the first time, and Arizona won the toss.
"Forty-five or whatever, 50 years, I’ve been doing it, I ain’t never seen it never flip," Arians said.
Larry Fitzgerald took a short pass and bolted downfield for a 75-yard gain on the first play of overtime, then scored two plays later on a 5-yard shovel pass from Carson Palmer to give Arizona the win.
Palmer and Newton will present a contrast in styles.
"One’s a classic drop-back player from the pocket," Arians said. "The other is a phenomenal athlete who can throw the football."
Palmer got the first playoff victory of his 13-year NFL career, but he wasn’t sharp much of the night.
Arians said he and his quarterback learned "not to be conservative in the first half when you’re picking your plays."
The coach allows Palmer to pick a series of favorite plays to run early in every game plan.
"We talked about it," Arians said. "This was a game where he picked a lot of shorter completions early, instead of going for them like we normally do. I think that was part of `I don’t want to screw this up.’ Now that we don’t have to worry about doing that anymore, we can go back to being ourselves."
For the second game in a row, the Cardinals had trouble running the ball, gaining just 40 yards on 19 attempts. Arians put the blame on the offensive line, saying there weren’t many holes for David Johnson to run through.
Arians knows all about the concerns that have been expressed about the condition of the playing field at Carolina, but he was having none of it.
"I don’t care if we’re playing in a parking lot," he said. "It’s the championship — be aware of it and have the proper shoes."
Notes: Arians said there were no injuries of significance in the Green Bay game. … The Cardinals are 7-1 on the road this season. … Fitzgerald’s 176 yards receiving are a franchise postseason record, breaking the record of 166 he set at Carolina in the divisional round of the 2008 season.
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