Arizona, Carolina rematch of pivotal playoff game

Oct 31, 2009 - 4:01 AM By BOB BAUM AP Sports Writer

GLENDALE, Ariz.(AP) -- The date was Jan. 10, 2009. Upstart Arizona stunned Carolina 33-13 in Charlotte, sending the Cardinals to the NFC championship game and Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme on a downward spiral that hasn't stopped.

The teams meet again Sunday, with Arizona riding a three-game winning streak and coming off one of its biggest regular-season wins, 24-17 last Sunday night at the New York Giants.

Delhomme, meanwhile, is clinging to his job. He threw five interceptions in that playoff loss to Arizona, and has an NFL-worst 13 this season.

He insists memories of that playoff debacle have been flushed away, although he acknowledges "there is not evidence that it has been, obviously, by the way I've played or we've played."

Carolina (2-4) is coming off a painful home loss to Buffalo when the Panthers outgained the Bills 425-167 but fell victim to four turnovers, three of them interceptions. Two of the picks came when Delhomme overthrew receivers.

Now he will be facing an Arizona defense that brings blitzes from all directions, something that bewildered Seattle's Matt Hasselbeck and New York's Eli Manning. Combined, those two completed 29 of 66 passes (44 percent) for 335 yards with one touchdown and four interceptions. Arizona had eight sacks in the two games.

"Fast, aggressive up the field and playmakers," Delhomme said of the Cardinals. "I don't know any other way to put it. They are a heck of a defense. They play fast. They play aggressive. They fly to the football."

Lately, Arizona's defense has outshined the Cardinals' vaunted offense.

"Around here for a number of years, the defense has come off the tempo of the offense," quarterback Kurt Warner said. "There is no question the defense, the way they are playing, the way they are shutting down the run, making it hard for other teams, that we are feeding off that."

Before Arizona won at Carolina, it had been woeful in games played in the East, including regular-season blowout losses to the New York Jets and New England last season.

This year, Arizona is 3-0 on the road, with wins at Jacksonville, Seattle and the Giants.

"I have no doubt that (the win at Carolina) contributed to our ability to win better on the road this year," coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "It was big for us. ... It was big for our confidence."

The Cardinals are only 1-2 at home this season, sputtering in the opener against San Francisco and being blown out by Indianapolis before beating Houston 28-21 to start their current winning streak.

"We are excited about coming back into University of Phoenix Stadium, leading the division and having played well," Whisenhunt said.

Panthers coach John Fox withheld his decision on who would start at quarterback until Wednesday, and it's not known how short a leash might be on Delhomme, with Matt Moore the apparent option.

Warner knows how Delhomme feels.

"I have been through it. It's tough," Warner said. "Especially as a leader because I can tell you from watching a few of the games that Jake has played that all of those things are not his fault."

But Warner said you can't point fingers at others.

"As a quarterback, it's all on you," Warner said. "All eyes are on you. Everybody wants to throw you out. It's a tough situation. What I've come to learn is that success and failure in this business comes as a team. The great players always have great players around them. In teams that struggle, a lot of guys aren't playing well."

Neither Fox nor Delhomme will point to that playoff game as the source of the current struggles of the Panthers quarterback.

"I don't put as much stock in that because every one of these games takes on its own personality," Fox said. "You have different matchups. You have different types of opponents. It is all different."

Given the current state of the Panthers, Delhomme said this is no revenge game.

"If we are sitting here 5-0 right now, if we were 4-1, maybe," he said. "If we have a winning record right now or if things are going really well, you would be like, `Man, I can't wait to get them.' Right now we're just trying to get good. ... It doesn't matter who it's against."

Not all the Panthers are brushing aside memories of last year's loss.

"They knocked us out of the playoffs and did a pretty good job of knocking us out," Carolina running back DeAngelo Williams said. "And that's kind of where our season this year started from. To go in and win that game, it would be big for us to turn our season around."

The Cardinals, meanwhile, are guarding against a letdown from the high of that Sunday night win on national television.

"In this business it's about every Sunday and winning and accomplishing something a lot bigger than a 4-2 record after six games," Warner said. "Nobody plays for that. You play for something bigger."

No one has shouted yet.
Be the first!