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Panthers rout Cardinals for NFC title

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Superman is headed for the Super Bowl.

He's taking the Panthers with him.

Cam Newton threw for two touchdowns and ran for two, and Carolina's big-play defense stifled the Cardinals' top-ranked offense in a 49-15 romp Sunday in the NFC Championship Game.

It was the most points for a winner of an NFC title game.

The NFL's new top man at quarterback — Newton is an All-Pro — will lead the Panthers against five-time MVP Peyton Manning and the Broncos on Feb. 7 in the 50th Super Bowl. Carolina is favored by four points.

"Playing the sheriff," Newton said of Manning. "We're going to live in the moment right now. We're going to be excited."

It will be Newton's first trip to the Super Bowl and the second for the Panthers (17-1), who lost to New England 12 years ago. Denver has reached the Super Bowl for a record-tying eighth time.

"We won as a team," Newton said. "We came out here and fought our tails off, and we did what a lot of people said we couldn't do. It's not over yet. We'll be ready to go in two weeks."

And though the Broncos' defense carried Denver past the Patriots 20-18 for the AFC crown Sunday, Carolina's defense was just as destructive. It forced seven turnovers, picking off Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer four times and forcing him to fumble twice.

Carolina's special teams also had a takeaway, and when Carolina grabbed a 24-7 halftime lead, it didn't back off, as it did in nearly blowing a 31-point margin a week ago against the Seahawks.

When Newton flew into the end zone for a 12-yard third-quarter touchdown, he posed like a superhero, did the "dab" in celebration and pointed the Panthers toward Super Bowl 50.

Newton had 335 yards passing and 47 rushing as Carolina won its 13th straight home game, including three in the playoffs.

One of his biggest helpers was Ted Ginn, who was dumped by the Cardinals after last season. Ginn had a 32-yard punt return to set up his weaving 22-yard touchdown run, and he chased down All-Pro cornerback Patrick Peterson to prevent a second-quarter touchdown. He also had 52 yards on two receptions.

Carolina's defense did the rest, most notably making Palmer uncomfortable in the pocket and turning receiver Larry Fitzgerald, the star of last week's overtime victory against Green Bay, into a virtual nonentity. It led the league with 39 takeaways, and at times it made an Arizona team that had gained more yards than anyone this season look amateurish.

All-Pro linebacker Luke Kuechly returned an interception 22 yards for a score to cap the barrage. The 49 points were the most this season for Carolina, which led the NFL with 500 points. The only time a team scored more in a conference title game was 1990, when the Bills beat the Raiders 51-3 in the AFC.

Carolina All-Pro linebacker Thomas Davis left the game with a broken right forearm in the first half.

"I will do whatever it takes (to play)," he said of the Super Bowl.

The scoring started quickly. Newton hit four passes for 35 yards on Carolina's opening drive, and kicker Graham Gano hit from 45 yards for a 3-0 lead.

Ginn's 32-yard punt return set up the Panthers at the Arizona 49-yard line. Six plays later, he took a pitch from Newton, headed left and broke a tackle. Just as quickly as he was surrounded by red shirts, the swift Ginn emerged to cut across the field into the end zone for a 10-0 lead.

Nearly as swiftly, it was 17-0. On third down from his 14, Newton fired a dart to receiver Corey Brown. Another botched tackle, at the Carolina 47 by safety Rashad Johnson, left Brown with nothing but unprotected turf.

Panthers rout Cardinals for NFC title 01/24/16 [Last modified: Sunday, January 24, 2016 11:35pm]
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