The Red Sea rose, the towels spun, and even before the first Packers snap, the Cardinals’ crowd had an effect on Saturday’s NFC Divisional playoff game.
False start, No. 71 offense, the loud-speaker blared, and cheers cascaded from the frothing faithful.
The Cardinals know how much of an advantage home field can be, and if the choice was theirs, Sunday night’s NFC Championship game would be played in University of Phoenix Stadium.
The Panthers were the only NFL team to go undefeated at home this season, and they haven’t lost there since Nov. 16, 2014 – a streak of 12 consecutive victories. Carolina tight end Ed Dickson believes the Cardinals are “very talented” but must overcome the location.
“They play very well at their house but they have to come here to play,” Dickson said.
While the Cards certainly excelled at home – seven wins in nine games, including the postseason – they were actually better on the road this season. They set a franchise record with seven road wins in eight regular season games and finished with an NFL-best plus-112 point differential. They scored 4.4 more points per contest and allowed 1.6 fewer compared to home games.
The schedule wasn’t grueling – the Cards played only one full-strength playoff team away from home, a 39-32 win in Seattle – but blowing out anybody in their own stadium is impressive, and the Cardinals did it to the Bears, Lions, Rams and Eagles.
“We knew the importance of winning on the road, and the opportunity of setting the tone for later in the season if we had to go on the road -- like we do now in the Championship game – and win on the road,” safety
The Panthers crowd will be amped up and their players will feed off it, but cornerback
“I think you should go into away games with an attitude knowing that everyone in the stadium is against you,” Powers said.
“It’s just fun,” Brown said. “We like playing at home, but we can go away and play because most guys feed off of that.”
While crowd noise can always be a factor, coach Bruce Arians doesn’t see it as a major deterrent. He said the Cardinals offense has used the silent count half the time at home games anyway, and there’s a benefit to a quiet crowd when Carolina has the ball.
“We’re better defensively because we can actually hear each other,” Arians said. “The communication is so much easier defensively when you can actually talk to each other.”
The Cardinals have plenty to worry about against the Panthers. Quarterback Cam Newton, the MVP front-runner, leads a high-scoring offense and elite players like cornerback Josh Norman, linebacker Luke Kuechly and defensive tackle Kawann Short highlight a stout defense.
The Cardinals are focusing on winning those battles instead of fretting about the game’s location.
“We don’t make situations bigger than what they are,” tight end