BY: ED COLE
GLENDALE, Ariz. – The Cardinals loss to the Panthers in the NFC Championship Game still stings. It’s going to take even more time to get over. Arizona was 60 minutes away from being in Santa Clara, Calif., for Super Bowl 50, and actually playing in it, instead of having players on Radio Row conducting interviews, like cornerback Patrick Peterson did with PFT’s Mike Florio on Wednesday.
Florio asked Peterson what stood out to him about the phenomenal season the team had in 2015. Peterson thought about it, and said that the entire season, and all the success they had, is what he’ll remember the most.
“Being one of the oldest franchises in the league right now, it’s by far our best season that we had as an Arizona Cardinals organization,” Peterson said. “Obviously, we fell short of our ultimate goal (Super Bowl title), but it’s definitely something for us to continue to build on, because every single year that (Cardinals head) coach (Bruce) Arians (has) been there, we continue to get better, and better, and better each and every year.”
“I believe this year was a huge, huge stepping stone for us,” Peterson said. “To win 13 games, get that first round bye, go to the NFC Championship Game for the first time since 2008, (win) the most games in franchise history, it’s a lot for us to build on, but we’re working it toward the right direction. We just want to continue getting better each and every year, to be, hopefully, one day in the big one (Super Bowl).”
The Panthers have exuded confidence all season long. It’s pretty hard not to when you finish the regular season 15-1, beat the Seattle Seahawks in the second round of the playoffs, and host the NFC title game, with some of the most raucous fans in the NFL backing you, and putting on one of the best game day atmospheres in all of sports.
It’s not to say that the Cardinals lacked confidence coming into Bank of America Stadium two weeks ago, because they had an extreme amount of belief in each other and their abilities. The problem was that the Panthers confidence level, and their level of intensity, was much higher than that of the Cardinals that evening, and Peterson saw it up close and personal.
“(In) my opinion, I think we (weren’t) able to match their intensity level,” Peterson said. “We came out slow, I just think we didn’t match their intensity, and by us being back so many points, you could tell that they were very, very focused and honed in on not giving up this big lead (in) this game. Those guys came out on fire, they had confidence, (their) intensity level was on point, the energy, the passion, everything was there. Not saying that we didn’t have it, they just had more than us that night.”
It was the second straight year Arizona lost to Carolina in Charlotte, N.C., in the playoffs. The year before, the Cardinals had a playoff-record low 78 yards of offense in a 27-16 loss to the Panthers in the NFC Wild Card Game.
Losing in the playoffs hurts. It hurts tremendously, but, according to Peterson, losing in the NFC Championship Game hurts a lot more than losing in the first round of the playoffs.
“That night, (Panthers quarterback) Cam Newton and the Panthers (were) the better team,” Peterson said. “They executed their plays better than we did, and they made more plays than we did to win the ballgame.”
Carson Palmer had one of the worst nights, if not the worst night, of his career against Carolina in the NFC title game. Of the seven turnovers Arizona had, Palmer was responsible for six of them (four interceptions, two fumbles). Having a night like that can affect the youngest player, to the oldest player in a locker room, so Palmer’s not immune to it.
Peterson’s not worried about Palmer not rebounding from such a horrible performance, because Palmer’s had a lot of rough games throughout his career and he’s gotten past them, so why not this one?
“Carson’s (Palmer) been there, done that,” Peterson said. “I believe he’s old enough, (and) he’s savvy enough to understand that the Arizona Cardinals need him, and we’re only going to be as successful as he wants to be, and as he wants this team to be.”
“Carson, in my opinion, will bounce back phenomenally, and (I’m) looking forward to the 2016-2017 season.”
Peterson didn’t have his brother, Tyrann Mathieu, with him for the final stretch run of the season, after Mathieu tore the ACL in his right knee against the Eagles in Week 14. It could’ve been a knockout blow for the Cardinals losing the heart and soul of their team in Mathieu, but neither Peterson, Mathieu, or anyone else would let that happen.
Mathieu showed his strength in his ability to undergo knee surgery for the second time in three years, and still hop on a plane with the team and support them on the sideline in Charlotte.
The love and support that Mathieu showed his guys that night was invaluable, especially in defeat. That let Peterson know that #32 would be just fine, and he’ll be back better than ever.
“The good thing about it, Tyrann’s (Mathieu) been through this injury before so he knows what it takes to get his body back in shape and back where it needs to be for him to perform at a high level,” Peterson said. “I have no concerns at all. Tyrann’s a very, very hard worker. He’s very, very committed to being great, and he wants to do whatever it takes to help this team win ball games. He’s been doing a phenomenal job ever since bouncing back from the first ACL injury, and his troubled past that he had over the years. Now he just has another obstacle that I have no doubt in my mind that he will overcome.”
Peterson’s not a demanding man when it comes to what he’d like to see team president/owner Michael Bidwill do to keep the Cardinals in a perpetual chase for a world championship, as he told Florio.
“Just continue giving us the pieces that we need to win ball games,” Peterson said. “The ownership’s been doing a great job over the last three years. Ever since Mr. Bidwill’s taken over the team, he’s been (in) day to day operations. The facility is coming along very, very well – (a) state of the art facility. The coaching staff is by far, the best I’ve been around, so just continue giving us the pieces we need to, hopefully, one day hoist that (Lombardi) Trophy.”