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Defending Their Honor: Cardinals Defense Leads Way In Win Over Panthers

Gardeck interception helps lock up 26-16 victory

Linebacker Dennis Gardeck hauls in his fourth-quarter interception during Sunday's win in Carolina.
Linebacker Dennis Gardeck hauls in his fourth-quarter interception during Sunday's win in Carolina.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – J.J. Watt never wanted the news of his heart issue to leak out.

One reason? He didn't want to take away from what his teammates did on Sunday at Bank of America Stadium in Carolina.

"The boys played a great game," Watt said, after he and the Cardinals defense dominated in a 26-16 win over the Panthers. "I'm thankful to be out there with them. I don't want to take away from these guys and what they did."

The Cardinals are now 2-2. The offense was uglier than they wanted again – quarterback Kyler Murray chuckled when he walked into the postgame press conference, knowing once again there were issues and knowing all he could do is say they have to stop – but the Cardinals still managed to win a regular-season game in Carolina for the first time since 2002.

The other stuff doesn't matter as much as long as the Cardinals won. Right?

"It matters to me," Murray said.

Winning usually means the most to the head coach too. Right?

"I would say so – unless you've done it four straight games, been just anemic," Kliff Kingsbury said. "We have to figure it out."

That's why the defensive performance loomed so large Sunday, beyond just having Watt on the field after his stunning pre-game tweet saying he had to have his heart shocked back into rhythm.

Facing struggling Panthers quarterback Baker Mayfield, the defense was good from jump, a welcome change from the first three games and in this case, needed.

The unit forced three turnovers, including the back-backer. After getting a 13-10 lead on a 33-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter, defensive end J.J. Watt batted a Mayfield pass – the third time he had done it in the game – and the ball drifted to linebacker Dennis Gardeck, who returned it to the Carolina 5.

"It was awesome just to get some life into the team," Gardeck said. "To keep the momentum going.

"We kept the pressure on him all game. It finally cracked and it was like a flood."

Moments later, Kyler Murray scampered around right end for a four-yard touchdown that sealed the game. The Panthers (1-3) under coach Matt Rhule, were 1-25 coming into the game when allowing the opponents at least 17 points. Murray's score put the Cardinals at 20.

A late Hollywood Brown touchdown catch from 22 yards was highlight-worthy, but in the end moot because Mayfield and the Panthers couldn't score enough.

"The defense had a hell of a game. A hell of a game," Murray said. "They had our backs all day."

The Panthers only had 220 yards, and that included a late 74-yard touchdown drive that was essentially meaningless. Mayfield threw for only 197 yards and was picked off twice, the other by safety Jalen Thompson.

"It was one of those games that comes to you," said defensive lineman Zach Allen, who continued his good season with his first sack of the season. "Guys are happy. But it's Week 4 of a 17-week season. That's the thing. Everyone on the outside is 'Oh my god, the sky is falling' when games like the first three games happened. But you can't ride the roller-coaster."

The Eagles (4-0) are the next team to visit, and the Cardinals are still chasing their first home win. Murray – who rallied from an early pick-6 with touchdown passes to Zach Ertz and Hollywood Brown – lamented how the Cardinals offensively were "sleepwalking out there" in the first half.

In the second half, the Cardinals outgained the Panthers, 201-85.

The slow starts "can't last forever," Murray said, almost as if he was trying to speak it into existence.

If the defense can play like that – and the Eagles will be much more difficult – then the offense will keep a margin for error.

"We needed it," Watt said. "We needed to go on the road, we needed to put a good performance."

Game action photos from the Cardinals' 26-16 win over the Carolina Panthers Week 4 of the 2022 NFL regular season