- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 11, 2009

CHARLOTTE, N.C. | The Arizona Cardinals were expected by most to be easy prey in another futile trip to the East.

Instead, Kurt Warner and the Cardinals are a victory away from their first Super Bowl appearance - with a big assist from Jake Delhomme and the bumbling Carolina Panthers.

The once-discarded Warner was steady in a 33-13 rout of the Panthers on Saturday night, throwing two touchdown passes, while Delhomme threw five interceptions and lost a fumble.

The target of jokes for years, the Cardinals became the last NFC team to reach the conference championship since the 1970 merger with a win few saw coming.

Arizona raced to a 27-7 halftime lead and cruised past the mistake-prone Panthers, who were the league’s only unbeaten team at home in the regular season.

Instead, Delhomme turned in a brutal performance on his 34th birthday. Just one shy of the NFL playoff record for interceptions, Delhomme became the first player to have five picks in the playoffs since Oakland’s Rich Gannon in the 2003 Super Bowl against Tampa Bay. He completed only 17 of 34 passes for 205 yards and one touchdown.

Arizona had been embarrassed when they ventured far from home, but the closest they came was a 27-23 loss here in October when the Cardinals blew a two-touchdown lead. There would be no suspense this time.

While Pro Bowl receiver Anquan Boldin (hamstring) sat out, Fitzgerald more than made up for the loss. The 6-foot-3 receiver had eight catches for a team playoff-record 166 yards while shredding the Panthers’ leaky secondary.

The Cardinals’ defense stopped Carolina’s potent running game, too. A week after shutting down Atlanta’s Michael Turner, DeAngelo Williams was held to 63 yards in a crushing loss for the Panthers, the No. 2 seed in the NFC who had visions of reaching their third NFC title game in six years.

Instead, Warner stole the stage. A decade after his storybook MVP season in winning the Super Bowl with St. Louis a year after he was teammates with Delhomme in NFL Europe, the 37-year-old Warner has another team on the brink of a most unlikely title.

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