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Cardinals receiver Anquan Boldin spikes the ball after one of his touchdowns Sunday in a 27-23 loss to Carolina.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Anquan Boldin wasn't limited at all Sunday.

The Cardinals' wide receiver was playing for the first time since Jets safety Eric Smith dislocated his upper jaw on a hellacious hit Sept. 28. He wasn't limited by his injury – asked afterward if had any issues Boldin said "none at all" – and he certainly wasn't limited by the coaching staff.

With the Cardinals using three- and four-receiver sets most of the game, Boldin played almost all of Arizona's 64 offensive snaps. He made an eight-yard reception on the Cards' second play from scrimmage and his 30-yard end-around run set up a field goal on the Cards' opening drive.

Not only did Boldin tie Steve Breaston with a game-high nine receptions (for 63 yards), he caught two touchdown passes and the 30-yard run was good enough to lead the pass-heavy Cards in rushing.

"It was just good to be back out there," said Boldin, who missed two games. "For myself, I just tried to work as hard as possible after the injury trying to get back to where I left off before the injury."

In the surgery, Boldin had wires inserted into his lower jaw. The doctor also sawed cuts in his jawbone to re-set the upper jaw, finishing the work by stabilizing the area with seven permanent plates and more than 40 screws.

Yet all of Boldin's catches were of the catch-and-run variety, taking punishment from the defense as usual. The Cards did throw deep to him a couple of times – including a halfback option pass by J.J. Arrington – but none of those were completed.

"We moved the ball up and down the field the way we wanted to," Boldin said. "We didn't think they had answers for us, especially when we went four-wide with the no-huddle package."

FAKING THE FIELD GOAL

The Cardinals lost a chance at points late in the first half nursing a 10-3 lead after an apparent 39-yard field goal by Neil Rackers was wiped out when Carolina called a time out. Set to try it again, coach Ken Whisenhunt instead called a fake field goal, and tight end Jerame Tuman slid out wide open on the fourth-and-14 play.

Holder Dirk Johnson ran the fake perfectly but his pass to Tuman was almost a shot-put. Tuman, not fleet afoot, had to wait for it just a bit, and Panthers safety CHRIS Godfrey made a first-down-saving tackle after a 10-yard gain.

"He was wide open," Johnson said. "I didn't want to overthrow him. Nothing more than that. If it comes out quick, we would've had more yards on the other end.

Whisenhunt said he understood 14 yards was a long way to convert. But with the Panthers unlikely to score with a minute left in the half and the Cards knowing they would receive the ball to nstart the second half, Whisenhunt felt it was a calculated risk.

"When we called it and ran it, I felt it was going to be a walk-in (touchdown)," Whisenhunt said.

IN OR OUT?

One turning point came with the Cardinals nursing s 23-17 lead and still smarting after Johnson dropped the snap on the extra point, foiling the attempt.

With the Panthers facing third-and-2 from their own 35, quarterback Jake Delhomme fired a pass to wide receiver Steve Smith just inside Arizona territory near the sideline. A couple of tacklers seemed to have forced him out, but Smith broke away to finish a 65-yard touchdown play.

Whisenhunt immediately challenged that Smith stepped out, and television replays seemed to indicate Smith's right foot was out of bounds. But after the replay, referee Walt Coleman said the play stood.

"It looked like he stepped out of bounds," Whisenhunt said. "Even before we saw the picture we were ready to challenge. It looked to me from where I was he stepped out. But our (defensive backs) coach Teryl Austin was standing right there and he immediately said, 'He stepped out of bounds.' "

Smith said he thought he was in.

"You keep playing it out," Smith said. "I knew I was close to the sideline."

GAME TURNS OVER

The Cardinals said multiple times heading into the game they couldn't afford turnovers and then they did just that in the second half, costing them 10 points.

The first came after the Panthers cut the lead to 17-10, when running back Edgerrin James fumbled the ball at the Cardinal 19. Carolina recovered and scored on the next play.

"(Defensive tackle Maake Kemoeatu) was right there, so I never had a chance to put the ball away," James said. "But you still have to put that ball away no matter what."

The other turnover came when Warner tried to throw a pass to Arrington when the Cardinals trailed by a point early in the fourth quarter. Warner called it a miscommunication between he and Arrington, that the playcall was for a route that sounded similar to another one. Arrington went the opposite way Warner expected.

"It's one of those things, it's inches," Warner said. "If he knocks it down or pulls it in, the game is completely different."

The Cardinals did benefit from a turnover themselves. A sack by linebacker Karlos Dansby created a fumble that Dansby recovered at the Carolina 5, leading to Boldin's first touchdown. And a drop of a wide-open touchdown pass by Carolina receiver Mushin Muhammad saved the Cards four points (after the Panthers kicked a field goal) in the second quarter.


Contact Darren Urban at askdarren@cardinals.nfl.net. Posted 10/26/08.

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