The Arizona Cardinals had to like their schedule upon learning the previously 2-14 Carolina Panthers would be visiting University of Phoenix Stadium for the 2011 opener.
As the game drew nearer, however, there was also a realization that all the pressure was on Arizona. The Cardinals had fancied themselves as having been a quarterback away from contending again, and now they had that quarterback. The Panthers had longer-range aspirations after using the first pick in the 2011 draft for a supposedly raw quarterback, Cam Newton.
The pressure on Arizona had to feel very real Sunday when Newton was ripping apart the Cardinals' defense for 422 yards passing, more than a rookie had ever amassed in his NFL debut.
Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic says relief was the prevailing emotion when cornerback Patrick Peterson atoned for problems in coverage with the winning 89-yard punt return for a touchdown. Bickley: "So football season begins with a sigh of relief. The Cardinals survived scattered boos and a jaw-dropping performance from Cam Newton, who embarrassed critics with a performance far exceeding what he did the previous time he was in Glendale, when he led Auburn to the BCS title. Peterson and fellow members of the secondary were scorched for most of the afternoon, culprits on a defense that allowed 477 yards." Noted: Fears over the Cardinals' defensive deficiencies came to life during this game. If there was a positive, it came in the Panthers' modest rushing totals. But with Week 2 opponent Washington having exceeded expectations on offense, the schedule is again appearing tougher than anticipated for Arizona early. Rex Grossman passed for 305 yards and two touchdowns during the Redskins' victory over the New York Giants.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals' defensive communication issues appeared to continue in their first regular-season game. Noted: Replays did show safety Kerry Rhodes looking back as if confused or wondering where his help had gone during one long reception. That is never a good sign. Adrian Wilson was also trailing the play.
Also from Somers: This was the sort of game the Cardinals would have lost in 2010.
More from Somers: Kevin Kolb passed for 309 yards and generally played well during his first game with Arizona. Somers: "He did a nice reading coverage, and blitz adjustments resulted in at least two big passing touchdowns. The first, a 48-yard touchdown pass to Jeff King, came on a blitz the Cardinals had scouted well. The Cardinals noted that the Panthers tended to let the tight end go free on that blitz. So King acted like he was staying in to block, then released. The Panthers let him go." Noted: Panthers coach Ron Rivera said the team lost linebacker Jon Beason to injury during that play, and that Beason might have caught King had he not been injured. That was tough to verify in watching the replay. From my view, King appeared to be well in the clear when Beason dropped from the play.
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com runs through Peterson's highs and lows.