Getting to within one game wasn’t good enough for Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians.
“If you’re not putting the ring on your finger, if that confetti’s not falling on your head, then it’s a bad year,” Arians said Sunday after his team lost 49-15 against the Carolina Panthers in the NFC Championship Game at Bank of America Stadium. “To be here in the championship game, those are all positive things. But we’re not about that. We’re about winning championships and we didn’t play near well enough – especially our best players – for us to win this game.”
The Cardinals’ best players – quarterback Carson Palmer, receiver Larry Fitzgerald, defensive back Patrick Peterson and defensive end Dwight Freeney – struggled throughout the game.
Palmer, who won the first playoff game of his career last week in the divisional round against the Green Bay Packers, had six turnovers, being intercepted four times and losing two fumbles. He completed 23-of-40 passes for 235 yards and a touchdown, with a quarterback rating of 43.2. He was also sacked three times.
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Fitzgerald caught just four passes on seven targets for 30 yards. He dropped at least two passes.
Although Peterson had an interception, he was part of a secondary that gave up 335 passing yards and two touchdowns to Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, who was protected well by his offensive line.
“The secondary was poor,” said Arians, whose team finished 14-4. “We gave up way too many plays. A couple of times (Peterson) was way too far off. When you have maximum protection, a guy’s going to go down and put double moves on you. That’s not the easiest job in the world.”
Freeney, who is eighth on the NFL career playoff sacks list, didn’t have a tackle or a sack.
“I just kept digging us in a hole that we couldn’t come out of,” said Palmer. “I was definitely forcing it. With my turnovers and just us not being able to come out of that hole, the lead just kind of snowballed and got out of control.”
Freeney didn’t want to place any blame on Palmer, but he also didn’t know where to start in figuring out what went wrong.
“We don’t know if it’s just Carson,” said Freeney, who joined the Cardinals in mid-October. “We can’t just point the finger until you really know. It could have been a receiver. It could have been someone that slipped. Obviously he didn’t have his greatest game ever. I know in Carson’s heart, he went out and played as hard as he possibly could. Never quit; never stopped. Did that equate to a championship? Hopefully one day.”