(SportsNetwork.com) - The Carolina Panthers had an extra week to bask in the glory of the franchise's most lopsided win in nearly two decades but now it's time to get back to work.
Cam Newton and Co. will travel west to take on the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium.
The Panthers were mired in hard-luck during the first two weeks of the season, dropping their first couple of games by a combined six points before bouncing back in a big way by with a 38-0 thrashing of the visiting New York Giants back on Sept. 22.
"We have to be realistic because we've not arrived by any stretch of the imagination," coach Ron Rivera said while trying to temper any "success hangover" for his young team. "We have to approach each week as a learning situation and keep shooting for the top of the mountain."
Newton threw for three touchdowns and rushed for another against Big Blue, while his team's defense put forth a dominant effort.
Newton finished with 223 yards and one interception while completing 15-of-27 passes and adding 45 yards on the ground. Brandon LaFell hauled in two of the quarterback's scoring strikes, with DeAngelo Williams contributing 120 rushing yards on 23 carries to Carolina's first triumph of the season.
The Panthers, who were routed by New York at home by a 37-6 score during Week 3 of the 2012 season, outgained the still-winless Giants by a whopping 402-150 margin in total yards. Carolina tied a team record by sacking Eli Manning seven times, including three from end Greg Hardy, forced three turnovers and yielded just 10 first downs in an overwhelming performance resulting in the team's first shutout since 2008.
"That game feels like a long time ago now and the significance of it will be determined by how we do going forward," said Rivera.
The Cardinals, on the other hand, are also coming off a win, albeit an extremely unimpressive one after Jay Feely's 27-yard field goal with 1:29 remaining lifted Arizona a 13-10 comeback victory over the hapless Tampa Bay Buccaneers last Sunday.
Tampa Bay rookie QB Mike Glennon was intercepted by Patrick Peterson late in the fourth quarter and Carson Palmer found Larry Fitzgerald in the end zone from 13 yards out to tie the score at 10-10.
"I was really surprised they threw towards him," said Arizona head coach Bruce Arians. "With the rookie quarterback, he's gonna make you pay. For a great athlete, Patrick studies the game extremely hard."
The Cardinals then sacked Glennon at the Tampa Bay 1, forcing a three-and-out and took advantage of the field position with Feely's 27-yard kick. Palmer's 19-yard pass to Jaron Brown, combined with an unnecessary roughness penalty on safety Dashon Goldson, brought the ball to the 9. After three runs, Feely booted the winning kick.
Peterson picked off Glennon for a second time with less than a minute remaining to seal the win for Arizona, which won on the road for the first time since Week 2 last season.
"I thought the fourth quarter was some of the best football we've played all year," said Arians. "I think all 53 guys had a hand in this win, and that's what it takes to win on the road in the NFL."
Palmer completed 21-of-38 passes for 248 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions for Arizona, which ran off 13 straight points in the fourth quarter.
The Cardinals snapped a seven-game regular-season losing streak to the Panthers with a 28-21 win the last time these two teams met on Sept. 11, 2011, Newton's NFL debut. Overall Carolina leads the series 8-3.
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The Cards should consider themselves lucky to be at .500 and have struggled mightily on the offensive side of the ball.
A shaky offensive line has been the main culprit. Already without first-round pick Johnathan Cooper for the season due to a broken left fibula, Arians continued mixing and matching by dealing struggling left tackle Levi Brown to Pittsburgh earlier in the week. Brown will likely be replaced in the starting lineup by Bradley Sowell, a waiver-wire pickup from Indianapolis back on Sept. 1.
"If it was one guy, it'd be easy to fix," Arians said when discussing the offensive problems. "Seems like we've got eight or nine guys on each play playing extremely well and two guys, and they keep swapping it out, decide to not do the right thing."
Things don't figure to get any easier against a strong Carolina front seven featuring Hardy, rookie nose tackle Star Lotulelei and All-Pro candidate Luke Kuechly at middle linebacker.
The Panthers have allowed just one 100-yard rusher and two rushing touchdowns since Week 14 of 2012 and starting running backs are averaging 39.4 rushing yards against Carolina during that time.
"We were going with a lot of inexperience in the secondary and knew the performance of our front seven would be critical," said Rivera.
The Panthers, meanwhile, come in third in the NFL at 151.0 rushing yards per game, pitting strength against strength because the Cardinals are second defending the run (75.0 ypg) after limiting Tampa Bay star Doug Martin to just 45 yards on 27 carries.
And the Arizona D will only be boosted this week when star inside linebacker Daryl Washington returns from a four-game suspension for violating the league's substance-abuse policy.
Newton will be opposite the Cards for the first time since his NFL debut in 2011 when he was 24-of-37 for 422 yards -- an opening day rookie record -- with two touchdowns and one pick in a 28-21 loss in Arizona.
He'll have to be very wary of Peterson, who recorded the two fourth quarter interceptions last week and is turning into one of the better cover corners in all of football.
Newton's NFL debut against the Cardinals was a coming out party that has helped him become the only player in league history with 8,000-plus passing yards (8,497), 40-plus passing TDs (46), 1,500- plus rushing yards (1,545) and 20-plus rush TDs (23) in his first 35 games. He also lost and that kind of sums him up as player -- big numbers but a 14-20 mark as an NFL starter.
"We have to keep going and get the mentality of 'We can win - and we will win,'" said Newton.
Not this week. Palmer has never lost to the Panthers (2-0) and the Cards should get the requisite big lift from the return of Washington.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Cardinals 20, Panthers 17