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Cardinals Return To Carolina

New season brings new perspective and concerns, but NFC Championship not forgotten


The Cardinals try to swarm Panthers wide receiver Ted Ginn in last season's NFC Championship game.

The rosters aren't the same. The stakes aren't nearly the same – although they are important for both teams in a vastly different way.

Months have passed since the Cardinals last visited Carolina, a trip for the NFC Championship that ended so ugly. It would be easy to say it means nothing in terms of the rematch Sunday between the Cards and Panthers.

But that wouldn't be true.

"It's all we think about," linebacker Kevin Minter said. "They beat our head in last year. It is what it is. That's the motivation for this week, kind of redemption. We owe them. They'll be ready for us, coming off their bye. If we play our game and execute, I feel it can

work out in our favor. If not, it can mess around and be like last year."

Last year ended in a storm of turnovers (seven) and disappointment, a 49-15 Panthers win no one saw coming. That alone resonates with the players who remain on the roster.

Perhaps it would have carried over better had this been the NFC clash of the titans everyone had expected. Fox had originally scheduled the game for 4:25 p.m. Eastern, an afternoon slot to broadcast nationally.

The Cardinals, however, got off to their bumpy 3-3-1 start. The Panthers have had a shocking start, the defending NFC champions sitting at 1-5 post-bye. This isn't for NFC supremacy but instead a fight for playoff hopes. Fox moved the kickoff to 1 p.m. Eastern – 10 a.m. Arizona time – to remove it from national consumption.

Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer, who accounted for six of the turnovers, said Sunday is about redemption "a little bit."

"This game is just so important to this season," Palmer added. "That's my focus."

With the records not nearly as gaudy as anticipated, it's harder to draw parallels to January.

"It's not a championship game," said safety Tyrann Mathieu, who missed the NFC Championship because of his knee injury. "It's a regular season football game. We're just trying to get a win, like those guys. Watching them on film, they don't look like a team with one win. They look pretty dominant, actually."

They also sound a little frustrated. Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly said his team just hasn't made plays at the end to win games – three of their losses have come by three points or less – and quarterback Cam Newton emphasized there wasn't any big message to be delivered to teammates as they try to rescue their season against the Cardinals.

"We out of messages," Newton told Carolina reporters. "We out of things that need to be said. We out of you know, big, rah-rah speeches and everybody saying, 'Believe.' Man, listen – we've gotta win. That's it. If you don't get excited about playing this game, then you can't beat a dead horse."

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians acknowledged this game is meaningful to holdover players but that the Cardinals are in a "totally different place." Arians also didn't want to hear about the weight of expectations on his team coming into the season either.

"I don't think that had a damn thing to do with us," Arians said. "We had a young player (Brandon Williams) that was put in positon and failed, gave up a touchdown (and) we missed a kick (against the Patriots). I don't think it had anything to do with our performance in Buffalo. And we missed another kick. Otherwise we'd be in first place."

Alone, that's plenty of motivation heading into Carolina.

But not the only motivation.

"We want to get our respect back," Minter said. "Regardless of our records now, that's still going to be a hell of a game."

Images of faces in the crowd at the Cardinals-Seahawks matchup

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