A glance at five top storylines for the Cardinals-Panthers game Saturday at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte.:
Third time a charm for Lindley
His first start this season was not pretty. His second was better, and for a half, he looked like the answer to everything the Cardinals have hoped for going into the playoffs. But Lindley ended up with three interceptions too – including one that short-circuited a rally in San Francisco. If Lindley can put together four quarters that matches his first two against the 49ers, the Cards will have something. It's not ideal that his timetable has to be sped up, but with a single loss meaning the end of the season, it's what he and the Cardinals are left with.
Cam as power runner
Cam Newton hasn't looked like a guy who was in a scary car accident. He looks like the conductor of a running game (with back Jonathan Stewart) that is piling up yards just at the time the Cardinals are having all kinds of problems stopping the run. Bruce Arians, defensive coordinator Todd Bowles and his players all point to the tackling and certainly, that must improve. It's the lifeblood of a defense and the Cardinals aren't doing it well enough nor as well as they were doing it just three weeks ago. Newton will carry the ball and generate yards himself and that allows the 10 other guys be blockers. If the tackling holds up, the Cardinals will be OK.
Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers
Most of the season, the Cardinals have been on the right side of the turnover battle. It was necessary in all the close games the Cards have played. But those turnovers aren't happening of late. After coming up with two in their last win against the Rams – and one of those was an interception by Patrick Peterson on a desperation pass on the final play of the game – the Cards haven't forced a turnover since. In fact, in their last four losses, the Cardinals have forced only one turnover: The interception safety Rashad Johnson returned for a touchdown in Atlanta. It's not hard to figure out, but the Cardinals have to find a way to separate the Panthers from the ball.
About that tight end
The Cardinals have been better against the tight end this season than 2013, but they still have moments when it affects them. Luke Willson of the Seahawks, for instance. Now comes a team with a 1,000-yard tight end in Greg Olson, and Newton has also been looking to Ed Dickson more and more as well. The Panthers don't have a dynamic offense, but Olson can do damage. On the flip side, the Cardinals have been lucky that they have their own tight end, Darren Fells, who has begun to emerge. The former basketball player is getting better as a blocker and he even made a couple of catches in San Francisco. Fells can help in a run game that's needed to help prop up Lindley.
Images from the 33-13 victory over Carolina in the NFC divisional round following the 2008 season
Remember what got you here
Even when everyone was healthy – and you can argue, with the loss of Darnell Dockett before the season even started, that they were never all-the-way healthy – the Cardinals were winning games with a simple script: Keep the game close at the half, force turnovers, don't turn the ball over yourself, and stop the run. The plays would happen as needed down the stretch to win. That's a formula that can be repeated even with Lindley at quarterback and even with other key pieces missing. Whether the Cardinals can make a playoff run doesn't matter at this point if they can't win Saturday, so they just need to do what they've done all season and see how that plays out.