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This Is Not Last Year's Cardinals-Panthers

Arians wants Palmer play choices to be more aggressive for NFC Championship


Coach Bruce Arians high-fives cornerbacks coach Kevin Ross during the Cardinals' playoff loss in Carolina last season.

It was just last January when the Cardinals last visited Carolina for a playoff game.

If there is anything either of these teams are sure of when they meet again in this year's postseason – this time for the NFC Championship this weekend – it's that last year's meeting means little.

"They are doing some different stuff," Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said Monday. "It helped to have seen it (last year), the guys who are left over."

There is little question Cam Newton – who played a below-average game in that 27-16 playoff win for the Panthers in

the Wild Card round – is much improved, moving to MVP favorite after a season in which his arm and legs accounted for 45 total touchdowns. There was also a decent amount of turnover for the Cardinals after that loss.

And some of those who were around last year didn't play. For instance, Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer, who was injured.

"You can't go into a game saying, 'This is what we did to them last year,' " Panthers coach Ron Rivera said.

Palmer's return is the biggest reason, of course. The Cardinals lost their quarterback in November to an ACL tear, and backup Drew Stanton was hurt a few weeks later. Third-stringer Ryan Lindley had little chance.

Palmer did not play his best game Saturday night despite 349 yards passing and three touchdowns. He had two interceptions and had a couple other near-misses. The Cardinals will need him to play more consistently, but Arians said the most important part for Palmer will be during the week.

Palmer gets to choose the scripted plays the Cardinals used at the beginning of the game, and Arians said Palmer was

conservative in those choices for the Packers.

"He picked a lot of shorter completions early instead of going for them like we normally do," Arians said. "I think that was part of 'I don't want to screw this up.'

"Now that we don't have to worry about that anymore we can go back to being ourselves."

Arians – who reiterated Palmer's right finger injury is not a problem – said the only time he thought Palmer's emotions were an issue was when those plays were picked. Still, Arians said he didn't and wouldn't argue with Palmer.

"It was a time to trust his feelings," Arians said. "That's one of those things that I know when to stop trying to talk him into a play, because he's not going to do what I want on that play anyway."

Defensively, Arians said preparing for the Panthers is like prepping for a wishbone team back in college, because of the ability of Newton to run the ball on power plays. The Panthers have "a tight end back there running the ball" when Newton goes.

Arians dismissed the concerns of shoddy turf at Bank of America Stadium this weekend after the field was not good for Panthers-Seahawks.

"I don't care if we are playing in a parking lot," Arians said. "Be aware of it, and bring the proper shoes."

Arians added that he was glad for a late kickoff. The NFC Championship doesn't kick off until 6:40 p.m. Eastern (4:40 p.m. Arizona time.) He sympathized with the Seahawks, who played with a 1 p.m. kickoff in Carolina, which was 10 a.m. Seattle time.

"Knowing what it is like to have a 4:30 (a.m.) wakeup call for a game is tough," Arians said. "Thank God it is a 6 o'clock game."


Arians said the Cardinals "came out pretty clean" in terms of injuries after the win over the Packers. …

Cornerback Justin Bethel struggled against Green Bay and looked upset afterward. Arians was asked if there was anything he was worried about from his young defensive back.

"We'll wait and see," Arians said. "This is the first time he's had something to get over. As a coach and a player, until it happens, you never know how they'll respond. Hopefully, he'll respond in the right way." …

Cornerback Patrick Peterson was not supposed to jump for the Hail Mary ball, Arians said, instead being the one in front of wide receiver Jeff Janis while safety Rashad Johnson challenged from behind.

"So, Pat jumped and Rashad didn't jump and we should have had them," Arians said. "We should have made a better play on the ball. We had two guys on one. We should come up with that ball."

The top images from the Cardinals' 26-20 overtime win over the Packers in the NFC Divisional Round

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