Where did the Cardinals who were wreaking havoc on the rest of the NFL go?“We’re playing better teams, and we didn’t bring our best game,” head coach Bruce Arians said.Indeed Arizona’s disappointing three-game stretch came against a trio of playoff teams, but that the Cardinals went from a Super Bowl favorite to barely competitive in the span of one month is a little on the concerning side.Maybe the loss of Tyrann Mathieu to a torn ACL was to blame. Maybe the right index finger quarterback Carson Palmer injured in a Week 15 win over Philadelphia was the culprit. Or perhaps there were other less noticeable factors that played into the Cardinals not looking like the Cardinals.Either way, the slip led to the season ending sooner than anyone hoped in a way no one expected.“I don’t know the reason, it’s just ups and downs, ebbs and flows,” defensive lineman Calais Campbell said. “Today wasn’t good enough, and it sucks the way it happened, too, because it just wasn’t pretty. We know we’re better than what we played today but you’ve got to pay your respect to Carolina.“They played a great game plan, executed well, and made big-time plays. All we can do is use it as fuel.” THEY WILL RETURN, IN SOME FORM OR ANOTHERChange is inevitable in life and in football.The Arizona Cardinals would like to build on what they accomplished this season, but part of that means adding new pieces while subtracting others or, as it will be, watching others depart on their own accord.In talking about his postgame message to the team, head coach Bruce Arians alluded to the change the roster is sure to undergo.“Those who will be back, because this team won’t be the same, they never are, bring back the same passion and energy from last year’s loss,” he said. “We made that nice step to win the division and get up to that next level to the championship game and next year, it’s Super Bowl or bust.”But who will be part of it?The team’s secondary is one place that could be hit pretty hard. Safeties Rashad Johnson and Tony Jefferson as well as cornerback Jerraud Powers are scheduled to become free agents.At least for Powers, it’s something he has thought about.“Of course you think about it,” he said. “Once December, January hits, you’re trying to answer questions from your wife if we should pack boxes or not.” SUPER CAMEveryone knew stopping Cam Newton would be at best a chore, and at worst impossible. Still, what he did Sunday night against the Cardinals was even better than most probably expected from the likely NFL MVP.Newton completed 19-of-28 passes for 335 yards with two touchdowns. He was intercepted once, and added 47 yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries.Quite simply, he was dominant, though he didn’t do anything that surprised the Cardinals.“He did everything he had done on tape and we didn’t play play defensively well enough,” Arians said. “We damn sure didn’t play (Greg) Olsen well enough.”Olsen caught six passes for 113 yards and yes, the Cardinals had no answer for him. But no doubt it is Newton who people will be talking about, and rightfully so.“They had a good game plan and they did some good things,” Campbell said. “You have to respect him as a runner and that kind of changes things. He made some big-time throws. He played a great game today.”The Cardinals aren’t the first team Newton has done that to, and they certainly won’t be the last.“Everything goes through No. 1 on their offense,” cornerback Patrick Peterson said. “He did a very, very good job today of not forcing things, of keeping the ball out of the air and keeping it away from our DBs because he knows that we’re capable of making some plays out there.” Arizona Cardinals’ Larry Fitzgerald catches a pass in front of Carolina Panthers’ Luke Kuechly during the second half the NFL football NFC Championship game Sunday, Jan. 24, 2016, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Bob Leverone) CHARLOTTE, N.C. — For most of the season the Arizona Cardinals were one of the NFL’s best teams, obliterating teams with aplomb.For the last month or so, however, they were anything but.Following the team’s 38-8 thrashing of the Green Bay Packers in Week 16, the Cardinals lost to the Seattle Seahawks 36-6, then needed overtime to beat the same Packers 26-20 three weeks later. Sunday night in Charlotte, they were demolished by the Panthers 49-15. Top Stories The 5: Takeaways from the Coyotes’ introduction of Alex Meruelo Grace expects Greinke trade to have emotional impact Comments Share Linebacker Kevin Minter mentioned them without being prompted, apologizing for how the season ended, and his teammates shared a similar sentiment.“That just shows you the commitment,” receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. “They are really supportive and want to see us do well. They will go through great measures to come do it and support us. It means a great deal to us.”Given the weather conditions, most of the fans who traveled for the game did not have an easy time getting into Charlotte. For their trips to go south like they most certainly did during the game is something no one felt good about.“It’s unbelievable,” Palmer said. “We put a lot into it, and our fans put a lot into it. Our fans take this personally, and they should. I let them down. They’ve been unbelievable all year long. At every game we won at home, they were such a big part of it. They show up on the road, finding a ticket somehow, some way, they got in this game. That’s part of the reason it hurts so bad.” – / 69 Derrick Hall satisfied with D-backs’ buying and selling PETERSON’S FUMBLEPatrick Peterson’s return to being the team’s primary punt returner was mostly uneventful this season. While he hadn’t really busted a long return, he also had not done anything terribly wrong.Until Sunday, when his fumbled punt in the second quarter essentially squashed any chance the Cardinals had of making a comeback.Down 17-7 and having just forced a second-consecutive three-and-out, Peterson tried to catch Brad Nortman’s short punt on the run near midfield, only to have it bounce off of him. The ball was eventually recovered by Carolina’s Teddy Williams.“I was trying to be aggressive, run under the punt, but almost at the last minute the ball shifted on me,” Peterson said. “I kind of out-ran the ball and it hit my shoulder. The rest speaks for itself.”Peterson said he needs to be smart in that position. The Panthers scored a few plays later, and at 24-7, the game was essentially over.“Just got to be smart in that position,” Peterson added, noting the score. “It was a crazy punt, but at the end of the day I’m trying to be a playmaker. I’m not going to regret going after that ball; just have to make sure I’m smarter in that situation fielding the ball and make sure that I give the ball back to our offense, not the opposing team’s offense.” Former Cardinals kicker Phil Dawson retires So, what did he tell her?“I just told her to hold on a little bit — we were renting Dan Williams’ house so I was like ‘he’ll give us some extra time if we need it.’“But it’s just one of those situations that I’m in. Every player thinks about it; you think about it, but you just don’t let it affect your play or whatever. It’s a business, at the end of the day. The NFL is a big business so we understand how it goes or what not. Of course, all the guys that are here, we want to be here next year because we feel like we’ve got something special, especially in the secondary, but at the end of the day if they want us, we’ll be here. If not, you’ve just got to move on.”THOSE FANS, THOUGHA good number of Cardinals fans made the trek to Charlotte for the game. They got together Saturday night at a local bar to celebrate their team and what they thought would be an NFC Championship.As it turns out, that was probably the highlight of the trip, as they were given little to cheer for during the game.While they were understandably quiet during the game, don’t think their presence went unnoticed by the team.