The Carolina Panthers’ defensive backs didn’t have a good practice Friday and they heard about it.
Safety Kurt Coleman said they got yelled at by defensive backs coach Steve Wilks. Fellow safety Tre Boston remembered it vividly.
Sunday, the message was received.
Carolina turned over the Cardinals seven times, tying for the sixth-most takeaways in NFL postseason history in the Super Bowl era, in the 45-19 route of the Cardinals in the NFC Championship Game.
“Just wasn’t a good enough practice even though there was snow and we were practicing on a bad field,” Boston said. “That’s nothing. There are no such things as bad practices for us, no matter what element we’re in. Rain, sleet, hail or snow, thunderstorms – we practice. We got yelled at Friday, came in Saturday and fixed things up.”
Like every game, takeaways are vital. Get two or three and you probably win the game. Get seven and it’s a blowout.
Not only did the Panthers get takeaways via the residents of Thieves Ave. – the moniker the Panthers’ defensive backs have assumed – but from other levels of the defense, as well. The defensive line created two. The linebackers got one. Even special teams got in on it.
But the defensive backs shined. Coleman had two, including a key pick in the end zone, and Boston had another.
Defensive tackle Kawann Short continued his All-Pro season with a strip sack at the beginning of the second quarter. Short took up Palmer like a forklift and, on taking him down, jarred the ball loose with his helmet to create the fumble.
The Panthers didn’t turn it into points, though. Arizona then went 79 yards for a touchdown and the game, at 17-7, seemed like it was still a game. Throw in the fact that Arizona stopped the Panthers for a three-and-out and the momentum was shifting.
But Patrick Peterson played some hero ball trying to run up and field a short punt and ended up muffing it. The Panthers recovered, and five plays later Cam Newton was going over the top for six.
The play of the game, according to Rivera, came late in the first half. Newton threw an interception on bad throw to a wide-open Ed Dickson in the seam.
Peterson took it from the Arizona 6 all the way to the Carolina 22 for a return of 72 yards but was chased from behind by Ted Ginn Jr.
The Cardinals were still in it.
“Any wide receiver could have shut it down off that pick, but Ted Ginn ran his butt off to make the play and it just gave us another opportunity,” Coleman said. “And that’s all we can ask for.”
The next play, Palmer threw another interception. This time it was a Coleman pick that looked like a practice ball. The Panthers would take a few more away – including a pick-six by Luke Kuechly – but that was the killer for Arizona.
“I really can’t describe it other than I just felt it coming,” Coleman said. “When he put it up there I said, ‘Thank you, lord.’ ”