(SportsNetwork.com) - If DIRECTV was looking for ideas to expand their popular Rob Lowe marketing campaign, Saturday's wild-card game between the Carolina Panthers and Arizona Cardinals may have given them some creative ammunition.
And make no mistake, "third-string quarterback Rob Lowe" has cable.
Cam Newton was bad on Saturday. There hasn't been an adjective invented yet to describe Ryan Lindley's play.
The Cardinals' third option at the game's most important position was an abject disaster as an 11-win Arizona team quietly bowed out of the postseason, falling to the Panthers 27-16.
The Cards mustered a moribund 78 yards for the game -- the lowest total for any team in any game this season and the fewest ever in a playoff contest as both of the team's touchdowns came on short fields caused by a pair of Carolina turnovers.
To give you a measuring stick, Cleveland amassed 107 yards in Johnny Manziel's disastrous first NFL start and the Browns held the previous mark for ineptitude in the postseason, managing just 86 yards against the Giants in the 1958 NFL Championship Game at Yankee Stadium.
Against a suffocating Panthers defense led by star linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis, Lindley did throw a TD pass to Darren Fells in the second quarter, but was sacked four times, intercepted twice -- once near the goal line -- and finished with just 81 yards passing on 16-of-28 attempts.
"You are called upon to win football games and we didn't do that," Lindley said.
Newton wasn't exactly great himself, flashing poor mechanics and shaky accuracy downfield while hitting on 18-of-32 throws for 198 yards with one interception.
And Cam gave Arizona plenty of opportunities but Lindley was so overmatched it was laughable, leaving many to wonder why presumptive NFL Coach of the Year Bruce Arians refused to go to his raw rookie Logan Thomas, who at least has an NFL skill set.
The Cardinals finished with eight first downs, went 25 minutes without one and had all of six positive plays in the final 30 minutes. Conversely, Carolina piled up 394 yards and 25 first downs, the most in its playoff history.
Compared to Lindley, Newton might as well have been Aaron Rodgers as the loss concluded a disastrous stretch run for Arizona, which owned the NFL's best record at 9-1 in mid-November. The Cardinals then lost four of their final six regular- season games with quarterbacks Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton sidelined with knee injuries.
"We were decimated by injuries this year," Cards star receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. "But we never made that an excuse. Now looking back, if you see all the guys we lost but coach never allowed us to feel bad about ourselves."
An Arizona team which won 13 of its past 15 starts with Palmer at the controls would have left the Tar Heel State with a win against these sloppy Panthers, and one with Stanton under center would at least have had a chance. Winning with the third-stringer was just untenable, however.
Pick the powerhouse, Seattle, Green Bay, New England or Denver. If any of those teams were down to a third QB, they would be behind the 8-ball also.
"I don't know if I've ever been prouder of guys that go out and fight every week," Arians said. "No missed opportunity whatsoever, these guys overcame, This was a great season."
As for Carolina, which didn't win a football game for over eight weeks at one point this season and finished the regular season at 7-8-1, only the second team in NFL history to play under .500 football and reach the dance, it simply took advantage of circumstance.
"We caught them at a good time," Panthers coach Ron Rivera admitted. "They are a very good team, we were fortunate to come out ahead."