(Reuters) - The Carolina Panthers scored twice in less than two minutes on Cam Newton touchdown passes in the third quarter and rode a powerful defense to a 27-16 win over the Arizona Cardinals in an NFC wildcard playoff game on Saturday.
The triumph was Newton’s first playoff win and the first victory in the postseason for the Panthers since the 2005 season and it came largely thanks to Carolina’s defense and a strong performance from their quarterback.
“I told my team-mates, no matter what, hell or high water I am going to give them everything I’ve got and that is what I tried to show today,” Newton, who finished with 198 yards passing, two touchdowns and an interception, told reporters.
Carolina will now play at either the Green Bay Packers or the Seattle Seahawks in the divisional round next weekend.
The Cardinals, with third-string quarterback Ryan Lindley, were totally ineffective on offense and finished with 78 total yards, the fewest in NFL playoff history.
Lindley was playing in his first playoff game after injuries to starter Carson Palmer and replacement Drew Stanton earlier this season left the Cardinals with no choice but to go with the untested 25-year-old.
“We did the things we needed to but we caught them at a good time,” conceded Panthers head coach Ron Rivera.
But his counterpart Bruce Arians refused to blame the injuries to his two quarterbacks for the loss.
“I never buy into that. We have to make gameplans to win games and ask players to do things they are capable of doing to win games. I never buy into injuries losing games,” the Arizona coach said.
After a 47-yard field goal from Graham Gano opened the scoring for the Panthers, Jonathan Stewart ran for a 13-yard touchdown run giving the home side a 10-0 first quarter lead.
But two bad errors allowed Arizona to take a 14-13 lead by halftime.
Panthers punt returner Brenton Bersin got himself in an awkward position and allowed the ball to bounce off his leg, with Arizona recovering. Darren Fells collected a one-yard touchdown pass from Lindley on the ensuing drive.
Then Newton was picked off by Antonio Cromartie, who returned the ball 15 yards, setting up his team for a one-yard touchdown run from Marion Grice.
The Panthers though took a firm grip on the game in the third quarter thanks to a brilliant 39-yard touchdown run from Fozzy Whittaker after a smart screen pass from Newton.
After Carolina recovered a Arizona fumble on a kickoff return at the Cardinals 3, the Panthers extended their lead when Newton found open fullback Mike Tolbert for a one-yard touchdown.
Arizona had a chance to get back into the game when they drove to eight yards from the Carolina end zone but Lindley’s pass intended for receiver Larry Fitzgerald was intercepted by Luke Kuechly.
Lindley completed 16 of 28 passes for just 82 yards and was sacked four times and intercepted twice.
Reporting by Simon Evans in Miami, editing by Gene Cherry