It says something about the quarterbacking in Sunday's Cardinals-Panthers game that one of the finest passes of the afternoon was thrown by Carolina's punter.
It says something about the quality of the game, a 26-16 Arizona victory, that the pass was immediately negated by a penalty.
And it says something about the entertainment value of the afternoon that one of the most exciting sequences of the day involved a fight-that-wasn't.
— alex (@highlghtheaven) October 2, 2022
This was an ugly afternoon of tipped balls, turnovers and penalties, a day when two Heisman trophy winners, two overall No. 1 picks, and two former teammates — Carolina's Baker Mayfield and Arizona's Kyler Murray — reunited with pride on the line. Both teams came into the afternoon at 1-2, and until the fourth quarter, neither looked particularly threatening to anyone other than each other.
The Cardinals had not held a lead in regulation this entire season, not until a go-ahead field goal in the fourth quarter. That was part of a barrage of 23 straight Arizona second-half points, an onslaught that left Carolina reeling and unable to keep pace.
When he gets rolling, Murray can be unstoppable, or at least uncatchable. The problem for Arizona is that he's taken too long in each game to hit maximum efficiency. His scoring drives in the fourth quarter, particularly a 23-yard touchdown thrown through a keyhole into the hands of Marquise Brown, were kinetic masterpieces, but they'll need to start much earlier in future games for Arizona to compete with elite teams.
The problem for Carolina, on the other hand, started at the top. Mayfield slid steadily downhill, his passes growing more erratic and Panthers fans growing more restless. By the time Mayfield watched the Cardinals bat down yet another pass late in the fourth quarter — their ninth on the day — the boos were raining down from the stands. Mayfield did engineer a late touchdown drive — his first of the afternoon — to draw within 10, but by then the story was all but over. Mayfield finished with 197 yards passing and a touchdown against two interceptions.
The Panthers hadn't lost to the Cardinals since 2013, and Carolina head coach Matt Rhule had owned a 2-0 record against Arizona's Kliff Kingsbury coming into the afternoon. Now, though, the balance of power has shifted — in the sense that Carolina appears to have no power at all.
The Panthers continue their trudge through the NFC West with upcoming games against San Francisco and Los Angeles before a divisional matchup with Tampa Bay, and three straight losses aren't out of the question. Arizona, meanwhile, will face the undefeated Eagles before taking on the Seahawks and the Saints. If Murray can get going before the fourth quarter in any of those games, Arizona will be in decent enough shape, but if the Cardinals can't get out of neutral early, the season will already be at risk.
Contact Jay Busbee at email@example.com or on Twitter at @jaybusbee.