Panthers shut down Cardinals in NFC Wild Card

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Charlotte, NC ( - Cam Newton's two third-quarter touchdown passes and a smothering defensive display kept the Carolina Panthers rolling with a 27-16 victory over the Arizona Cardinals in an NFC Wild Card Playoff.

Newton delivered scoring strikes to Fozzy Whittaker and Mike Tolbert that erased a 14-13 halftime deficit, and the Panthers' defense made the lead stand by limiting a weaponless Arizona attack to a mere 13 yards and two first downs over the final two quarters.

With third-string quarterback Ryan Lindley at the controls, the Cardinals mustered a paltry 78 total yards overall -- the fewest by one team in a playoff game in NFL history. Both of Arizona's touchdowns came on short fields caused by a pair of Carolina turnovers.

"Whatever the stat was, that's playoff football, that's championship football right there," said Newton of his team's defensive effort.

Lindley did throw a TD pass to Darren Fells in the second quarter, but was intercepted twice -- once near the goal line -- and finished with just 81 yards on a 16-of-28 completion rate.

Jonathan Stewart added 123 rushing yards and a touchdown on 24 carries in the fifth straight win for the Panthers, whose late-season surge was good enough to capture the soft NFC South with a 7-8-1 record. Newton hit on 18-of-32 throws for 198 yards with one interception.

Carolina will next visit either reigning Super Bowl champ Seattle or Green Bay in the Divisional round, depending on the outcome of Sunday's Detroit-Dallas clash.

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 beset by injuries.

"Regardless of the circumstances or situation or where I was six weeks ago, eight weeks ago, you are called upon to win football games," Lindley said. "We didn't do that."

Arizona capitalized on a Newton interception and a fumbled punt by Brenton Bersin to go ahead at the break, but had minus-three yards during a third quarter in which the Panthers dominated on both ends.

Whittaker put Carolina in front to stay with 5:36 remaining in the period by taking a short screen 39 yards to the end zone, with the reserve running back eluding several tackles after cutting across the field and following his blocks down the left sideline.

Arizona's Ted Ginn Jr. opted to return the ensuing kickoff after fielding it eight yards deep in the end zone, but the former Panther had the ball dislodged by Melvin White at the 8-yard line and Kevin Reddick recovered the fumble for Carolina at the 3.

After Tony Jefferson was called for interference on Greg Olsen on an incomplete pass on 3rd-and-goal, Newton found Tolbert alone in the flat on the next snap for a 1-yard touchdown that staked the Panthers to a 27-14 lead.

"I don't remember touching him," said Jefferson of the play. "That was a pivotal part of the game."

The deficit proved to be too much for Arizona's punchless offense to overcome, though the Cardinals had a chance to close the gap when Sam Acho forced a fumble while sacking Newton in Carolina territory with just under 12 minutes left.

Rashad Jefferson returned the loose ball 30 yards to the Panthers' 8-yard line. However, All-Pro linebacker Luke Kuechly stepped in front of Larry Fitzgerald and intercepted Lindley on the following play.

The Cardinals never threatened afterward, managing only a safety in the final seconds when Carolina punter Brad Nortman deliberately ran out of the end zone to avoid a potential block.

Carolina's two costly turnovers negated a 208-65 advantage in total yards for the first half, as well as a 10-0 lead it had built after one quarter.

Bersin bobbled away a punt on his own 30-yard line to set up Arizona's first touchdown, Lindley's 1-yard strike to Fells on the opening play of the second quarter that came after the fill-in quarterback delivered a 14-yard completion to Fitzgerald to convert a 3rd-and-10.

Newton's cross-up with Jerricho Cotchery later in the frame resulted in Antonio Cromartie's interception and 50-yard return into the red zone. Four plays later, Marion Grice stretched the football across the goal line on a 1- yard run for a 14-10 Arizona advantage, with the score initially ruled a fumble that the Panthers recovered but overturned on replay.

"We felt like we put (the Cardinals) in better situations than they even expected with the turnovers," said Newton. "Those things can't happen."

Graham Gano also pulled a 43-yard field goal attempt wide left to add to Carolina's mistakes, though he hit a 39-yarder late in the half to complete a 9-play, 59-yard two-minute drive.

The Panthers appeared to be on the way to a blowout win early on, scoring on their first two possessions that each began on short punts by the Cardinals' Drew Butler.

Butler's 24-yard kick led to a Gano 47-yard field goal that began the scoring. Newton went 4-for-4 on Carolina's next series, which Stewart finished with a winding 13-yard touchdown that put the NFC South champs up 10-0 with 5:21 left in the first quarter.

Game Notes

Arizona's 78 yards surpassed the 86 Cleveland managed against the New York Giants in the 1958 Eastern Conference Championship for the fewest in an NFL postseason game ... The Panthers snapped a three-game postseason losing streak, which included a 33-13 setback to Arizona in Charlotte in a 2008 NFC Divisional Round matchup ... The Cardinals surrendered 188 rushing yards after permitting 267 and 206 on the ground to Seattle and San Francisco, respectively, in the final two weeks of the regular season ... Kuechly was credited with 10 tackles and two passes defensed in addition to his interception ... Carolina wide receiver Philly Brown did not return after injuring his left shoulder near the end of the first half.