Quarterback Cam Newton was not the only Carolina Panthers player performing like Superman on Sunday as the brilliant pass-and-run threat teamed up with his mates to soar into the Super Bowl.
Newton twice flew like his caped comic book superhero to cross the goal line on runs, ran over a defensive back on another jaunt and connected with Corey Brown on an 86-yard touchdown pass for one of his two scoring strikes.
He was joined in the jaw-dropping play department by speedy receiver Ted Ginn, who zig-zagged to a 22-yard touchdown on an end-around run; Kurt Coleman, who swiped a pair of passes, and linebacker Luke Kuechly who ran his interception back 21 yards for a score.
The Panthers pounced on seven Arizona Cardinals turnovers and the gang celebrated on the sidelines during the two-minute warning before the end of their 49-15 romp as “Sweet Caroline” blared over the loudspeakers.
It put them into Super Bowl 50 against the Denver Broncos.
“We came out here and fought our tails off, and we did what a lot of people said we couldn’t do,” Newton said.
Last year, the Panthers were 3-8-1 before finishing with a four-game winning streak to win a weak NFC South Division.
This season, despite building a 14-0 record before suffering their lone loss of a 15-1 campaign, skeptics questioned just how good the Panthers were.
“We felt pretty confident all year long with the guys that we have and the character that we have,” said standout tight end Greg Olsen. “When we’re playing, we’re as good as it gets.” All Pro cornerback Josh Norman said no one should be surprised.
“It’s not by chance that we have done this. Today is our day. The time is our time,” he said after Carolina shut down the league’s top-rated offense. “We’ve been doing this all year.” At the top of the Carolina chain is Newton, who even brings thrills to a staunch member of the Panthers defensive line.
“What can you say about Cam? It’s his world. He’s the MVP. I call him Obama. I’m just glad he’s on my team,” said nine-year Panthers veteran Charles Johnson.
“He does amazing stuff.” The 26-year-old Newton said he preached patience to his mates and it was all paying off now.
“It isn’t going to be instant grits, quick grits,” Newton said. “It’s going to be a process, like long-cooked collard greens. I think those collard greens are brewing right now. You can smell it from a mile away.” Earlier, Denver and veteran quarterback Peyton Manning edged last year’s champion New England Patriots and their signal caller Tom Brady 20-18 for the AFC title.
Carolina scored the first three times they touched the ball in seizing a 17-0 lead and led 24-7 at halftime, taking advantage of four turnovers by a shaky Arizona attack.
Last week the fast-starting Panthers raced to a 31-0 lead by intermission against the Seattle Seahawks in the Divisional Round before holding on for a 31-24 victory.
Three more interceptions of beleaguered quarterback Carson Palmer, including one returned 21 yards for a touchdown by Luke Kuechly, and cool execution by Newton in the second half expanded the rout.
“We wanted to be efficient, we wanted to start fast, wanted to keep the pressure on and wanted to finish, most of all,” Newton said after the game.
Newton, who led the team to an NFL-best 15-1 record and is the favorite to claim league Most Valuable Player award, spoke to the team at halftime about playing hard to the end.
Newton completed 19 of 28 passes for 335 yards and added 47 yards on 10 rushes.
The seven turnovers by Arizona tied the most ever in an NFC championship set by the 1978 Los Angeles Rams against the Dallas Cowboys.
“It hurts to lose like this, in this fashion,” said Cardinals veteran wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who was held to 30 yards receiving after gaining 176 yards last week against the Green Bay Packers.
“We just didn’t have it today. That really stings.”
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