Linebacker Karlos Dansby falls on the fumble that set up the Cards' first touchdown in Sunday's 27-23 loss in Carolina.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The Panthers were in shotgun and it was third-and-long, but it was no surprise when running back DeAngelo Williams was given the ball.
And the way the second half went for the Cardinals Sunday, it wasn't a surprise Williams busted up the middle for 15 yards when he needed 13, sealing a 27-23 loss for the Cards at Bank of America Stadium.
"Today it hurt," defensive end Bertrand Berry said. "We had a golden opportunity to put ourselves in a great position.
"We didn't get that done."
The worry about starting slow as a result of playing early in the East wasn't a problem, not after the Cardinals built a 17-3 lead early in the second half. It was the finish that killed the Cards (4-3), including a fumble by running back Edgerrin James inside the Cardinals' 20-yard line and a Kurt Warner interception inside the Carolina 20.
Wide receiver Anquan Boldin returned from his facial surgery to make nine catches and score two touchdowns, and Warner threw for 381 yards. But he also threw 49 times, and Boldin's 30-yard run on a first-drive end-around made him the Cards' leading rusher.
The Cards scored often, however, and looked like they might pull off the road win against the solid Panthers (6-2). They looked like they'd overcome the missed scoring opportunity in the first half, when coach Ken Whisenhunt eschewed a makeable field goal try for a fake and tight end Jerame Tuman got only 10 of the 14 yards needed for a first down.
But the Panthers began feeding Williams, who had 68 of his 108 rushing yards in the second half. He ripped through the Arizona defense on Carolina's first drive of the second half to spearhead a touchdown drive. Cardinal killer Steve Smith scored on an 18-yard scoring pass the play after James fumbled the ball.
Then Smith seemed to catch a break on a 65-yard touchdown reception in which he looked to have stepped out of bounds.
Whisenhunt lost that challenge and Smith had the last of three Carolina touchdowns in the third quarter that changed the game.
"You can't turn the ball over and you have to tackle better than we did," coach Ken Whisenhunt said.
The Cards, down 24-23 because holder Dirk Johnson dropped an extra point snap, still looked like they were headed to a go-ahead touchdown. But on second-and-3 at the Carolina 15, Warner, trying to make a play, tried to dump the ball over the middle to J.J. Arrington.
The ball glanced off Arrington's hands and it was intercepted by linebacker Jon Beason, ending what was a crucial drive.
The Cardinals only had the ball once more, stalling at their own 45 and punting. The Panthers, who kicked a field goal for the final margin after Warner's interception, never gave the ball back.
"We felt if we got the ball back one more time we would score," Boldin said.
Instead, the Panthers held it for the final 5:57, twice converting on third-and-long. The final Williams run was simply apropos of the game, as the back busted through multiple tackles to finish off the Cards.
The tackling may not have been perfect, linebacker Gerald Hayes said, but "I wasn't happy with the game, period." It was an end reminiscent of the Cards' inability to stop the Redskins late in that loss.
Steve Breaston (nine catches for 91 yards) and Larry Fitzgerald (seven for 115) each had big games along with Boldin, and the pass protection was solid considering the Cards attempted 51 passes.
With a road trip against the resurgent Rams in St. Louis next week, the Cards have to find a way to repeat everything but the way their day ended.
"That might be the best road game we have played," Warner said, "since I have been here."
Contact Darren Urban at firstname.lastname@example.org. Posted 10/26/08.