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Cardinals Up Next For Panthers In Home Playoff Game

Cam Newton
Jeff Siner
Charlotte Observer

The Carolina Panthers made history by making the playoffs for the second year in a row. Now they plan on sticking around longer than they did a year ago.

The Panthers’ division-clinching 34-3 win against Atlanta on Sunday earned them back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time in franchise history.

Carolina (7-8-1), one of only two teams in NFL history to win its division with a losing record, will host Arizona (11-5) in a wild-card game 4:35 p.m. Saturday at Bank of America Stadium.

The Panthers broke a four-year playoff drought last season, but lost to San Francisco 23-10 in the divisional round in Charlotte. The Panthers have dropped three consecutive playoff games, beginning with a loss at Seattle in the 2005 NFC championship game.

“The beautiful thing is the record doesn’t matter. That’s the best part,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “It’s about the fact that we won the South two years in a row. We were the first team to do it from the South. That’s something for us to build on as we go forward as a football team.”

The game against Arizona will be a rematch of the Cardinals’ dismantling of Carolina 33-13 in a 2008 divisional-round matchup. Jake Delhomme threw five interceptions and lost a fumble in the loss.

Five Panthers players remain from the 12-win team in 2008 – running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, center Ryan Kalil, linebacker Thomas Davis and defensive end Charles Johnson.

Amidst the celebrating Sunday in the visitors locker room at the Georgia Dome, Johnson reminded his teammates that the work was just beginning.

“That’s why I got up and said, we enjoy this night. But I haven’t won a playoff yet, so I’m hungry for that,” Johnson said.

The Cardinals have been in disarray at quarterback since losing their top two passers – Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton – to injuries.

Arizona coach Bruce Arians initially named rookie Logan Thomas the starter for the Week 17 game against San Francisco, but scrapped that plan after one practice. Arians stuck with No. 3 quarterback Ryan Lindley, who entered Sunday’s game against the 49ers having thrown an NFL-record 225 consecutive pass attempts without a touchdown.

Lindley threw two touchdowns in the 20-17 loss to San Francisco, but he also had three interceptions.

While several media outlets reported Stanton is unlikely to return for the postseason after developing an infection in his knee, Arians said last week Stanton “remains on schedule” for the playoffs.

The Cardinals once had the inside track for the top seed in the NFC, but dropped four of their final six games to finish behind Seattle (12-4) in the NFC West.

Panthers safety Roman Harper was with New Orleans in 2010 when the defending Super Bowl-champion Saints, who were 11-5, lost in the wild-card round at Seattle, which at 7-9 was the NFL’s first division champ with a losing record.

So Harper understands anything can happen in the postseason.

“All you do is just ask for a chance at the end of the year. I lost to that Seattle team. We beat them (34-19) not even a month before that,” Harper said. “All you’ve got to is punch your ticket. That’s all you want is a ticket at the end of the year, and have a chance at this thing. And we have that. … I think we have four more to where we’ve got to get to.”