They can’t blame Ryan Lindley this time.
With a trip to Super Bowl 50 hanging in the balance, the Cardinals’ biggest stars imploded in their postseason rematch with the Panthers, ending in a 49-15 loss.
“Great players play great in big games,” Arizona coach Bruce Arians said when he raved about Larry Fitzgerald’s sterling performance last week. “And that’s how you get to the Hall of Fame. Some guys shrivel in the moment, some guys flourish in the moment.”
Carson Palmer was a legitimate MVP candidate this season. Patrick Peterson was the NFL’s dominant lockdown cornerback. Fitzgerald has a strong argument as the greatest postseason receiver in history. All three shriveled in the moment.
The seven turnovers from Palmer and Peterson were the most by any team in a playoff game since the Packers’ eight in a 2001 loss to the Rams.
“We just didn’t play well enough,” Arians said after the loss. “Our best players especially didn’t play well enough.”
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Peterson’s muffed punt was a critical gaffe, negating the Cardinals’ momentum by blowing an opportunity to recover from an early 17-0 deficit.
Fitzgerald dropped two passes Sunday after flubbing just one on 268 targets over the past two years.
While those two perennial Pro Bowlers are certain to bounce back next season, it’s fair to wonder how Palmer’s postseason collapse will affect his confidence going forward.
Coming off a shaky start versus Green Bay in the Divisional Round, Palmer battled jitters again in Carolina, throwing four interceptions and losing two fumbles to the Panthers’ opportunistic defense.
Palmer hasn’t been the same since suffering an injury to the index finger of his throwing hand, posting a 56.7 completion rate, 5:7 TD-to-INT ratio and a 65.5 passer rating in the last three games compared to 64.7, 34:10 and 106.8 in his first 16 weeks of the season.
NFL Network’s Courtney Fallon reports the Dolphins will evaluate Tannehill on a week-to-week basis, but the QB being back by Week 17 or the playoffs is a possibility, according to sources informed.
Tannehill was hit by Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell while stepping into a throw Sunday. According to NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport, the league is reviewing the hit. Gase told reporters on Monday that he didn’t blame Campbell for the hit given his size and how fast he was going at the time of the collision.
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While his streak of 77 consecutive starts is almost certainly in jeopardy this weekend when the team flies north to take on the Jets (Gase said he isn’t sure if the quarterback will be able to come back this season), Tannehill is avoiding the kind of procedure and rehabilitation process that could keep him out almost a year. While a torn anterior cruciate ligament is not the death sentence it once was, it still commands a lengthy rehab process that might have left the Dolphins without their starting quarterback on opening day of next season. Tannehill is currently tied for fifth with Seattle’s Russell Wilson among active quarterbacks for most consecutive starts.
Tannehill will finish a season with a winning record as a starter for the first time in his career. If Sunday was his last game of the season, he finished with a career-best 67.1 completion percentage. He threw for 2,995 yards, 19 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. While the Dolphins are currently the first team out of the AFC playoff picture, he had Miami eyeing the postseason for the first time since 2008. That challenge will now fall on the shoulders of career backup Matt Moore, who last started a game back in 2011.
“That’s elite company — nobody,” Bruce Arians said of the 100-yard-from-scrimmage record, via the team’s official site. “That speaks for itself, really.”
While this season has been difficult to swallow for Arians and the Cardinals, Johnson’s incredible skill set signifies a bright future on the horizon. A running back with that type of skill set is a huge draw for potential free agents and, should Arizona need to go in this direction, an invaluable asset for a rookie quarterback.
Johnson currently has 1,085 rushing yards and 11 rushing scores. He also has 69 catches for 745 yards and four touchdowns. He’s third in the NFL in rushing yards and 35th in receiving yards. For perspective: He’s essentially put up the same receiving statistics as DeSean Jackson and, in addition, is the third most productive running back in football.
Combined with Le’Veon Bell’s resurgence and Ezekiel Elliott’s emergence, we may very well be in the next Golden Age of running backs. That is something in itself worth rooting for.