Cardinals will tackle unkind East Coast in next playoff round

PHOENIX -- The Arizona Cardinals are headed back to the East Coast, a part of the country that has been so unkind to them.

The Cardinals were 0-5 there this season, with losses to the Washington Redskins, New York Jets, Carolina Panthers, Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots. Three were blowouts.

The best Arizona showing came against Carolina, the Cardinals' opponent Saturday night in the NFC Divisional Playoff Game.

Arizona's destination was determined Sunday when the Philadelphia Eagles beat the Minnesota Vikings 26-14. That meant the Eagles play at the New York Giants next Sunday, and the Cardinals (10-7), after their 30-24 wild-card victory over the Atlanta Falcons on Saturday, get a rematch with the Panthers.

Carolina was an NFL-best 8-0 at home, but its closest call came in a 27-23 victory over Arizona on Oct. 26.

The Cardinals led 10-3 at halftime and 17-3 early in the third quarter. But the Panthers scored twice in a 44-second span, the second after Edgerrin James fumbled at the Arizona 17, to tie the score at 17. The Cardinals went back on top on Warner's 2-yard TD pass to Anquan Boldin, but they botched the two-point conversion attempt, and the score was 23-17.

The Panthers went ahead for good on Steve Smith's 65-yard touchdown catch from Jake Delhomme with two seconds left in the third quarter. Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt challenged that Smith had stepped out of bounds as he ran down the sidelines, but the touchdown was upheld, and Carolina led 24-23.

Arizona subsequently drove to the Carolina 15, but Warner's pass bounced off J.J. Arrington's hands and was intercepted by linebacker Jon Beason. That led to John Kasay's 50-yard field goal for the game's final score with 9:09 to play.

Warner completed 35 of 49 passes for 381 yards and two touchdowns for Arizona with that one costly interception. Boldin played for the first time since his brutal hit by the New York Jets' Eric Smith on Sept. 28. Several facial bones were fractured, and surgery was required to repair the damage. Against Carolina, Boldin caught six passes for 85 yards and rushed once for another 30.

Boldin is hurt again, though. He injured his hamstring on a 71-yard touchdown catch from Warner in the second quarter against the Falcons. The Pro Bowl wideout played the next series, then left for good. His status for the Panthers' game is uncertain.

Warner and James, who know what it's like to advance deep into the playoffs from their time with other teams, will try to hold down the emotion from the playoff victory, which came in the Cardinals' first home postseason game since the then-Chicago Cardinals beat the Eagles for the NFL championship in 1947.

"We have so much potential on this team, so why not go out and live up to our potential?" James said.

James was benched eight games into the season, but he returned as the lead back in the final regular-season game and revived Arizona's dormant run game. He outgained Atlanta's Michael Turner on Saturday, rushing for 73 yards on 16 carries. Turner, the No. 2 rusher in the NFL, had 42 yards on 18 carries in perhaps Arizona's best defensive showings of the season.

James has said that he expects this to be his final season with the Cardinals, even though he has one year left on his contract. He said he won't let that affect his playoff performance.

"I'm gone come the end of the year. I'm not even worried about that," he said. "Because if you train and you prepare, you're going to have success."

The Cardinals have lost to all three of the other remaining teams in the playoffs. The Giants won at Arizona 37-29 on Nov. 23. Four days later, on Thanksgiving night, the Eagles clobbered the Cardinals in Philadelphia 48-20.

It's possible that Arizona could host the NFC Championship Game. That would happen only if the Cardinals beat the Panthers and the Eagles beat the Giants.

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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