Ron Rivera's defense carried an inconsistent offense and disastrous special teams by holding the Cards to 78 net yards -- thanks to losing 19 on the final play -- setting a record for the fewest yards in a postseason game. It was the first time in the Super Bowl-era that a team was held under 100 yards in the playoffs.
The Panthers' speed at linebacker overwhelmed the Cardinals. Luke Kuechly led the way with 10 tackles, an interception and a tipped pass that resulted in a game-ending pick by rookie safety Tre Boston. Fellow linebacker Thomas Davis was a speeding bullet all night, blowing up seemingly every play sideline to sideline.
Up front Charles Johnson continued to rush with fire, picking up back-to-back sacks in the fourth quarter to lead a group that totaled four quarterback takedowns.
Lindley's ineptitude will likely overshadow the defensive performance, but dismissing Carolina's defensive dominance is a miscalculation.
A week after holding a top-10 offense to three total points, Kuechly and company clamped down on a Cardinals offense that put up a 397 yards in Week 17 on a top-5 defense. Saturday the Panthers held Lindley to 82 yards on 16 for 28 passing -- without allowing big plays -- and the Cardinals running game to just 27 yards.
Rookies Boston and Bene' Benwikere have jumpstarted a secondary that has closed down lanes and forced Lindley to check down often. The play in the secondary over the past month has allowed the front to get after quarterbacks.
The Panthers stacked the line often daring Lindley to throw. It was a phenomenal game plan by defensive coordinator Sean McDermott that was executed to perfection by his players. If not for the offensive errors and a special teams miscue this would have been a shutout.
That unit needs a repeat performance in Green Bay or Seattle to continue to press on in the postseason.