GLENDALE, Ariz. — The return of Daryl Washington has made a good Arizona defense even better.
Just ask Cam Newton.
Washington had two of Arizona’s seven sacks of Newton and one of its three interceptions in the Cardinals’ 22-6 victory over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.
“He was the same old D-Wash,” teammate Patrick Peterson said, “running sideline to sideline.”
Washington was back after serving a four-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.
“It feels good, especially with a win at home,” he said. “My teammates and this organization are so supportive of me that it makes it easy for me to go out and do what I do.”
There were plenty of other defensive playmakers for the Cardinals, who fell behind 6-3 at halftime but dominated the second half.
Calais Campbell had two sacks, one for Arizona’s first regular-season safety in nine years, the other forcing a game-clinching fumble. Karlos Dansby also had two sacks and an interception. Peterson also had an interception.
“That’s the beauty of it,” Campbell said. “When you have so many guys that are as talented as we have, you’ve got to pick your poison. You can try to take one of us out of the game, somebody else is going to eat.”
Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer called his team’s defensive performance “phenomenal, lights out, and not surprising whatsoever.”
Carolina (1-3), playing for the first time since a 38-0 victory over the New York Giants two weeks ago, managed only Graham Gano’s field goals from 22 and 51 yards.
“It is as disappointing as disappointing gets,” Panthers safety Mike Mitchell said.
The day just got worse and worse for Newton, returning to the site of his BCS championship performance for Auburn and his impressive NFL debut.
“I have to do a better job of protecting the football,” he said. “We had our opportunities in the red zone multiple times and we just couldn’t seem to get it together. We are not going to sob or get beside ourselves or go into a shell. We are going to keep fighting. That is what this team is full of.”
Palmer threw a touchdown pass, but was intercepted three times as Arizona’s offense struggled again, as it did most of last week in a 13-10 win at Tampa Bay.
“You can call them ugly wins or any kind of wins you want,” said Cardinals first-year coach Bruce Arians, who turned 61 on Thursday. “As long as they’re wins, I love them.”
Jay Feely, who had a 42-yard field goal for Arizona’s only points of the first half, kicked a 50-yarder to make it 15-6 with 3:38 to play.
The Cardinals clinched it when Campbell sacked Newton and the ball popped free. Antoine Cason picked it up and ran 40 yards to the Carolina 9.
Palmer connected with Jim Dray for a 7-yard score, the big tight end’s first career touchdown, to make it 22-6 with 2:23 remaining.
The Panthers had four dropped passes, two of them by the normally reliable Steve Smith, and were penalized nine times for 79 yards.
One of Smith’s drops would have been a touchdown. Their running game, ranked third in the NFL coming in, managed just 95 yards, only 21 in the second half.
“We have to protect the quarterback better and we have to make better decisions as far as the quarterback, too,” Carolina coach Ron Rivera said. “There are a lot of things we have to correct and a lot of blame to go around for everybody.”
Andre Ellington’s 26-yard run set up the Cardinals’ first touchdown. Rashard Mendenhall scored from the 1 to put Arizona ahead for the first time 10-6 with 5:48 left in the third quarter.
After the kickoff, a taunting penalty on Jordan Senn and an offensive pass interference call on Smith pushed Carolina to its 5-yard line. Newton faded into the end zone and was sacked by Campbell, and the Cardinals led 12-6 with 5:28 to go in the third.
After the ensuing free kick, Arizona had it at the Carolina 48 when Luke Kuechly intercepted Palmer and returned it 30 yards to the Cardinals 29.
The Panthers moved to the 5, where on third-and-3, Washington picked off Newton’s pass and rambled 41 yards to midfield.
Newton was 14 for 21 for 215 yards in the first half, but couldn’t get the Panthers in the end zone.
Gano’s 51-yard field goal as the half ended put Carolina up 6-3.
Peterson intercepted Newton’s pass intended for Smith at the Cardinals 1-yard line and scrambled 43 yards to the 44.
Completions to Larry Fitzgerald and Ellington moved Arizona to the Panthers 23. But Palmer overthrew Fitzgerald over the middle, and Mitchell intercepted it in the end zone with 34 seconds left in the half.
That was plenty of time for the Panthers, who got a 20-yard run by fullback Mike Tolbert and a pair of completions by Newton. After a holding penalty negated Graham’s 41-yard field goal, he nailed the 51-yarder to put the Panthers up by three at the break.
Notes: The Panthers lost starting left guard Amini Silatolu with a knee injury in the third quarter. … Washington had one other game with a sack and interception, against Carolina in the 2011 season opener.