NFL Wild Card? Not for long!

FitzbeatsquareCHARLOTTE, NC — Here we are on the other side. In 2015, the NFL playoffs start for 12 deserving franchises. They are rewards for great playing, planning, drafting and living to pursue the dream of winning the Super Bowl.

Only one team gets to hold that Vince Lombardi Trophy on Sunday February 1, 2015. The University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona is where the action is.

The hometown Arizona Cardinals, who started 9-1 and for a long time looked potentially like the best team in football, had their personal dream of playing in their very own stadium on Super Bowl Sunday come to a crushing end 27-16 to the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte.

Former Auburn Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Cam Newton threw two touchdown passes in grabbing his first career playoff win. Just three weeks ago, Newton survived a car accident in which he suffered a bone fracture in his back.

The Panthers won the NFC South with the NFL’s worst record by a playoff team, 7-8-1, and proved they belonged by smothering the Cardinals’ anemic offense. Quarterback Ryan Lindley, who was cut by the team in the pre-season, started the last three weeks for the Cardinals. Arizona produced only 78 yards total offense, establishing an NFL post-season record for the fewest yards ever in an NFL playoff game.

The Cardinals were forced to play with their fourth quarterback of the season. Carson Palmer, Drew Stanton, Thomas Logan and Lindley were the Cardinals quarterbacks. After losing starter Palmer on November 9 to a torn left ACL, and later his backup Stanton to a sprained right MCL-ACL, it was a matter of survival for the Cardinals.

The Cardinals have been on offensive life support for weeks. They lost their top running back Andre Ellington to a late season-ending injury weeks ago. The Cardinals scored the fewest points the last six regular-season games of any team previously in NFL history, just 73 points.

Subsequently, they lost four of six games and finished 11-5. By virtue of Carolina winning its division even with an inferior (7-8-1) record, they got to host the playoff game as NFC South Champions.

The nearly 72,000 fans in attendance helped infuse the charged-up Panthers. Arizona led at the half 14-13, but a Cardinals nightmare-like third quarter with two turnovers and -3 yards on offense led to two quick Panthers touchdowns. The Panthers have now won five straight games and, at 8-8-1, travel next week to Seattle to play the rested Super Bowl defending champions.

The Cardinals fought to the very end despite the burden of virtually no offensive potential. Veteran Pro Bowl receiver Larry Fitzgerald Jr. may have played in potentially his last game as an Arizona Cardinal.

His contract and the $23 million salary cap number with it for 2015 is such that the Cardinals may lose Fitzgerald. As they say in the business, time will tell.

Larry Fitzgerald can be heard weekday mornings on KMOJ Radio 89.9 FM at 8:25 am, on WDGY-AM 740 Monday-Friday at 12:17 pm and 4:17 pm, and at www.Gamedaygold.com. He also commentates on sports 7-8 pm on Almanac (TPT channel 2). Follow him on Twitter at FitzBeatSr. Larry welcomes reader responses to info@larry-fitzgerald.com, or visit www.Larry-Fitzgerald.com.