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Panthers Move On

January 8, 2015

History has told us that the NFL always places its least desirable wildcard playoff game in the Saturday afternoon time slot.

Being in that slot did not bother the Carolina Panthers as they put a 27-16 defeat on the visiting Arizona Cardinals.

Carolina won quite easily, but it’s tough to get any kind of read on how well the Panthers stack up against any other NFC playoff team, primarily because the Cardinals were awful. Injuries took away Arizona’s running back and two quarterbacks who had led the team to a 9-1 start and a 11-5 record. Their replacements were not close to being ready to produce competent football in the NFL playoffs.

It did take awhile for the Panthers to take control of things. After streaking out to a 10-0 lead in the game’s first nine minutes, Carolina’s Brenton Bersin fumbled a punt and quarterback Cam Newton threw a costly interception. Both turnovers led to Arizona touchdowns, and at halftime, the Cardinals held a 14-13 lead despite amassing only 65 yards of total offense compared to Carolina’s 208 yards.

But the Cardinals’ offense couldn’t score any more points and the one-point lead didn’t hold up. The game turned for good midway through the third quarter when runningback Fozzy Whittaker turned a screen pass from Newton into a 39-yard touchdown.

Minutes later, Arizona kick returner Ted Ginn Jr. made matters worse on the ensuing kickoff, when he decided to run out a ball he caught nine yards deep in the end zone. He fumbled the ball away on the Cardinals’ three yard line. Four plays later, the Panthers put another touchdown on the board. That was more than enough to do in Arizona who set a record for accumulating the lowest total of offense, 78 yards, in NFL playoff history.

Panthers Travel To Seattle

Round two of the NFL Playoffs sends the Carolina Panthers to meet the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks. The matchup pits the hottest two teams in the game. The Seahawks were 6-4 before winning their final six games. The Panthers were 3-8-1, but have won their past five games.

Recent history is on Seattle’s side. The Seahawks defeated the Panthers 13-9 on Oct. 26 in Charlotte, the fourth consecutive time Seattle has defeated Carolina over the past five seasons. The Panthers have lost all three times they have played at CenturyLink Field, including a 34-14 playoff victory for the Seahawks in the NFC Championship Game on January 22, 2006.

An almost certainty is that we will see a low scoring defensive battle. Neither team scored more than 16 points in the past three meetings. The defenses could dominate this game, as well. The Seahawks are No. 1 this season in yards allowed at 267.1 and points per game at 15.9. Seattle has allowed only 39 total points in the past six games. The Panthers have allowed only 59 points in the last six games and only 32 points in the past three. Carolina held Arizona to only 78 yards Saturday and only 27 yards rushing.

Pick Up Flag Gate

I could not leave the opening week of the NFL Playoffs without spending some time addressing the picked-up flag in Dallas. Games between two good teams often hinge on one or two deciding calls, but what happened to Detroit last Sunday is different. I doubt if a penalty flag has ever been picked up and waved off that late after being thrown.

Quick review. With 8:25 left in the game, and clinging to a 20-17 lead, Detroit was driving on Dallas again. On third down, Lions tight end Brandon Pettigrew got loose downfield, and Dallas linebacker Anthony Hitchens, running with his back to the play, simply ran over Pettigrew.

Dez Bryant, with helmet

A flag went flying. Referee Pete Morelli announced to the crowd that Hitchens had been called for pass interference. Dallas star Dez Bryant stormed off the bench all the way out to the middle of the field, helmetless, to argue. I don’t know if it was a coincidence or not but it was decided that the call would be reversed, that there was no penalty, and life would go on, and perhaps, nobody would notice.

I have to think I am in the majority in saying that I have never seen anything like this during a professional football game. I have never have seen a crucial penalty call simply disappear without explanation after it’s already been announced to the crowd. Nevertheless, instead of having a first down inside the Dallas 30-yard line and a chance for a 27-17 lead, the Lions stood on the Cowboys 46 and chose not to go for it on fourth-and-1. Detroit punter Sam Martin proceeded to produce a 10 yard shank punt to set Dallas up with great field position. Minutes later the game turned. The proceeding Cowboys drive was helped along by two holding penalties on the Lions’ secondary in the course of four plays. Of course, those flags were not picked up.

Lions fans have every right to look back at this game and feel both miffed and frustrated. They outplayed the Cowboys for most of the contest. Somewhat lost in the blown call was the fact that Bryant should have been penalized 30 yards, one unsportsmanly conduct penalty for coming out on the field and another for coming onto the field without his helmet on. These are automatic calls that are routinely made on a weekly basis. Not Sunday. Not in Dallas.

Sid’s Playoff Predictions

I can see Carolina hanging around for the first half before running out of gas in Seattle. Justice would prevail if Dallas loses in Green Bay and I think they will. In the AFC, I like New England edging Baltimore and Denver blowing out Indy. That would leave us with a Final Four of Seattle at Green Bay and Denver at New England. Hmmmmmm. Could be a Seattle/New England Super Bowl.
















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