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Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers pound Arizona Cardinals, roll into Super Bowl

By The Sports Xchange   |   Jan. 24, 2016 at 11:31 PM
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Carolina Panthers went full speed ahead toward the Super Bowl.

And they claim they haven't completed their task.

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"I'm enjoying this, but the work is unfinished," safety Kurt Coleman said.

The Panthers finished off the mistake-prone Arizona Cardinals in swift fashion in the NFC Championship Game, winning 49-15 Sunday night at Bank of America Stadium.

Quarterback Cam Newton rushed for two touchdowns and passed for two more as Carolina cruised into the Super Bowl.

Carolina (17-1) will meet the Denver Broncos (14-4) in Super Bowl 50 on Feb. 7 at Santa Clara, Calif., in a matchup of the top seeds in each conference. The Panthers' only other Super Bowl appearance came in 2003, when they lost to the New England Patriots.

"I've never won a championship in anything," Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart said. "There's a lot of guys on this team like that. You've got relish this."

The Cardinals (14-4) couldn't overcome four first-half turnovers, including three by quarterback Carson Palmer. They were denied their second berth in the Super Bowl.

The Panthers won two postseason games in Charlotte, running their home-field winning streak to 13 games.

The matchup between Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks turned out to be a dud. Palmer was charged with six of Arizona's seven turnovers, twice intercepted by Coleman.

Carolina's defense was overwhelming.

"We always work on stripping the ball and getting turnovers," Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson said. "It's the playoffs, what's the sense of getting a sack without getting a turnover."

Newton completed 19 of 28 passes for 335 yards with one interception. He gained 47 yards on 10 carries.

Palmer was 23 of 40 for 235 yards with one touchdown pass and four interceptions.

"It's frustrating not to win it all," Arizona coach Bruce Arians said. "From last year's loss (at Carolina in a wild-card game), we made that nice step."

The Panthers led 24-7 at halftime, and they used up more than seven minutes to begin the second half while driving for a 21-yard Graham Gano field goal.

When the Panthers got the ball back, they chewed up another four minutes before Newton's 12-yard touchdown run built the lead to 34-7.

For a team that was outscored 24-0 in the second half a week earlier by the Seattle Seahawks, the Panthers showed a killer instinct the team discussed all week.

Newton was too much to handle.

"It's hard because you have to play the quarterback run," Arians said.

Palmer hooked up with tight end Darren Fells for a 21-yard touchdown in the first minute of the fourth quarter. A two-point conversion brought Arizona within 34-15.

The Panthers responded with Newton's 5-yard touchdown toss to wide receiver Devin Funchess -- followed by a two-point conversion pass -- with 5:26 remaining.

Fifteen seconds later, Carolina linebacker Luke Kuechly returned an interception 22 yards for a touchdown. He has a pick-6 in both playoff games this month.

Newton threw a long touchdown pass on third down in the first quarter and scored on a 1-yard dive over the pile in the second as the Panthers powered to a 17-point halftime lead.

"We just didn't play well on defense," Cardinals safety Jerraud Powers said. "Guys are disappointed in the way we played."

It was a rough landing for the Cardinals.

"We took another step from last year," Powers said. "That's not to say it's OK."

Carolina's first possession resulted in an eight-play, 39-yard drive and Gano's 45-yard field goal.

Wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr.'s 32-yard punt return set up Carolina at the Cardinals' 49-yard line for its second possession.

Ginn, who played last season for Arizona before rejoining the Panthers, then scored on a 22-yard reverse on a play in which he reversed field after picking up about half of the necessary yards.

Newton's long pass to wide receiver Corey Brown on third-and-8 resulted in an 86-yard touchdown play with 49 seconds left in the first quarter.

It was nearly a repeat of the strong start for Carolina in the divisional playoffs. The Panthers led 14-0 after one quarter and 31-0 at the half a week earlier against the Seahawks.

The Cardinals finally made it into Carolina territory early in the second quarter, but Palmer fumbled on a sack to end the threat.

Arizona, which started slowly for the second week in a row, finally scored on running back David Johnson's 1-yard run with 5:44 left in the first half. That capped a 10-play, 79-yard drive that lasted more than six minutes.

It looked as if Arizona might seize momentum by forcing a punt, but the boot was muffed by cornerback Patrick Peterson, and Carolina took over at the Cardinals' 46.

The Panthers converted five plays later on Newton's 1-yard touchdown leap, pushing the lead to 24-7.

A sack by Charles Johnson gave the ball back to Carolina at Arizona 31.

Then the Cardinals caught a break when Peterson intercepted Newton and returned it 72 yards to the Carolina 22 in the final minute of the first half. The good fortune didn't last long because on the next play, Coleman intercepted Palmer on a throw into double coverage in the end zone.

"Before the half, (Palmer) tried to get it all in one play," Arians said.

Panthers cornerback Cortland Finnegan, who was a midseason acquisition, made a couple of key defensive plays in the first quarter.

NOTES: The previous meeting between teams came with Carolina winning 27-16 in the wild-card playoff round last January. ... Aside from last year, Arizona won the only other playoff meeting (33-13 on Jan. 10, 2009). ... All three postseason clashes have come in Charlotte. ... Temperature at kickoff was listed at 39 degrees. ... The Cardinals' only other appearance in the NFC Championship Game came with a victory against the Philadelphia Eagles following the 2008 season. ... The Panthers played in the NFC Championship Game for the first time since 2005. Of four NFC title games for Carolina, this was the first at home. ... Panthers DE Jared Allen, who sustained a foot injury last week against Seattle, was inactive for Sunday's game. ... The Panthers had a league-leading 10 selections for the Pro Bowl, while Arizona had seven.

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