Carolina Panthers are Super Bowl bound after destroying Arizona, 49-15

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WNCN/AP) — The Carolina Panthers are headed to the Super Bowl after routing the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC Championship game on Sunday in Charlotte.

The Panthers led the entire game and easily squashed an attempted Arizona 4th quarter comeback with two scores to boost the final score to 49-15 — the most ever scored in an NFC Championship game since the Super Bowl began.

Cam Newton celebrates Ted Ginn’s run for a touchdown during the first half the NFL football NFC Championship game against the Arizona Cardinals, Sunday, Jan. 24. (AP Photo/Mike McCarn)

The Panthers managed to intercept the Cardinals twice in the fourth quarter — including one by  Luke Kuechly who ran it back for 21-yard “pick six.”

Cam Newton threw for two touchdowns and ran for two others, and Carolina’s big-play defense stifled Arizona’s top-ranked offense.

The NFL’s new top man at quarterback – Newton is an All-Pro this season – will lead the Panthers against five-time MVP Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl in two weeks.

It will be the first Super Bowl for Newton and the second trip to the big game for the Panthers (17-1), who lost to New England 12 years ago. Denver, of course, has made a habit of going to Super Bowls, reaching it for a record-tying eighth time.

Carolina’s defense forced six turnovers by Carson Palmer – special teams got one – as the Cardinals (13-4) allowed their most points this season.

—-EARLIER COVERAGE

9:15 p.m.

PANTHERS 34, CARDINALS 15

Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers can’t celebrate quite yet.

The Arizona Cardinals are looking to mount a fourth quarter comeback against Carolina – and they are off to a good start.

They’ve cut Carolina’s lead to 34-15 on a 21-yard touchdown pass from Carson Palmer to tight end Darren Fells and a 2-point conversion run by J.J. Nelson. The Cardinals have the ball back after forcing a Carolina punt, but Palmer ended up throwing an interception in the end zone, Arizona’s fifth turnover of the game.

The Panthers have struggled maintaining leads in the past against Indianapolis, Green Bay, the New York Giants and Seattle. Carolina talked about keeping their foot on the gas and now will be an interesting time to see if they follow through on the declaration.

– Steve Reed reporting from Charlotte, North Carolina

———

9:06 p.m.PANTHERS 34, CARDINALS 7

The rout appears to be on in the NFC championship game.

MVP candidate Cam Newton scored his second rushing touchdown on the game on a 12-yard run, leaping into the end zone to give the Carolina Panthers a commanding 34-7 lead over the Arizona Cardinals with 2:08 left in the third quarter.

Newton set up the score with an 11-yard run for a first down in which he dived for a first down and then spiked the ball as Superman music played in the background.

Newton has run for 33 yards on nine carries with two TDs.

The Panthers have run for 115 yards on 24 carries.

– Steve Reed reporting from Charlotte, North Carolina

___

8:45 p.m.PANTHERS 27, CARDINALS 7

Graham Gano has kicked his second field goal of the game – a 21-yarder – to put the Panthers up 27-7.

Cam Newton is 12 of 19 for 211 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He has rushed six times for 11 yards and a touchdown.

– Steve Reed reporting from Charlotte, North Carolina

___

8:33 p.m.

The Arizona Cardinals have turned the ball over four times in the first half – three by quarterback Carson Palmer – and trail the Carolina Panthers 24-7 at halftime of the NFC championship game.

Palmer has been sacked twice and fumbled both times – one by Charles Johnson and the other by Kawann Short. Palmer also was intercepted in the end zone by safety Kurt Coleman.

Patrick Peterson also muffed a punt leading to a Carolina touchdown.

The Panthers have outgained the Cardinals 216-143 at the break. However, Carolina has surrendered bigger leads in the past, so this game is far from over.

– Steve Reed reporting from Charlotte, North Carolina

___

8:14 p.m.

The Panthers have announced that linebacker Thomas Davis (right arm) and safety Roman Harper (eye) will not return.

Also, All-Pro center Ryan Kalil’s return is questionable with a knee injury.

– Steve Reed reporting from Charlotte, North Carolina

___PANTHERS 24, CARDINALS 7

The Panthers took advantage of two Patrick Peterson mistakes and have opened a 24-7 lead against the Arizona Cardinals on a leaping 1-yard touchdown run by Cam Newton.

The Panthers scored five plays after Peterson muffed a punt near midfield and then was called for defensive holding on the next play from scrimmage to give Carolina a first down.

Jonathan Stewart had two runs of 17 and 23 yards set up the score.

– Steve Reed reporting from Charlotte, North Carolina

___

7:50 p.m.PANTHERS 17, CARDINALS 7

Running back David Johnson got the Arizona Cardinals on the board with a 1-yard touchdown run late in the second quarter on a drive in which Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis left the game with a right arm injury.

The Cardinals drove 79 yards on 10 plays and Johnson went up the middle for the score.

Davis, who has had an exceptional game with six tackles – including two for a loss -headed to the sideline before the touchdown to get looked at by physicians. The Panthers said his return is questionable.

Earlier in the game safety Roman Harper left with an eye injury and has not returned. That is two key veteran players for the Panthers.

Meanwhile, the Panthers are backing in scoring position at the two-minute warning.

– Steve Reed reporting from Charlotte, North Carolina

___

7:32 p.m.PANTHERS 17, CARDINALS 0

Cam Newton hooked up with wide receiver Philly Brown on an 86-yard touchdown pass to give the Carolina Panthers a 17-0 lead with 49 seconds left in the first quarter.

Newton beat a blitz and fired over the middle for Brown, who caught the ball near midfield, eluded a tackle from safety Rashad Johnson and raced the final 50 yards to the end zone.

The crowd immediately erupted into chants of “MVP! MVP! MVP!” after Newton’s TD strike.

The Panthers (16-1) have scored on their first three possessions after scoring on their first five possessions last week against the Seattle Seahawks.

Meanwhile, the Cardinals have punted on their first three possessions.

Newton is 7 of 9 for 135 yards and one touchdown.

– Steve Reed reporting from Charlotte, North Carolina

___

7:30 p.m.

California, here comes Peyton Manning.

Can there be a better ending for one of the NFL’s greatest quarterbacks?

Thanks to a ferocious defense that hammered Tom Brady all day long, Manning and his Denver Broncos are Super Bowl-bound after a nail-biting 20-18 win over the defending Super Bowl champs.

At 39, Manning now becomes the oldest quarterback to take his team to a Super Bowl. The oldest before him? His current boss, John Elway.

“That’s a tremendous honor. It’s been a special four years playing here in Denver for these great fans and for this great organization,” Manning said after throwing for two touchdowns and scrambling for 12 yards for his longest playoff run since his rookie season. “To be going to our second Super Bowl in four years is very special and just an awesome effort by our entire team tonight, what an incredible effort by the Patriots. For us to beat that team today, a very special win.”

The Broncos (14-4) play the winner of the NFC title game between Carolina and Arizona. The Panthers have jumped to a 17-0 lead.

The Super Bowl is Feb. 7 in Santa Clara, California.

___

7:16 p.m.PANTHERS 10, CARDINAL 0

The Carolina Panthers are at it again.

Picking up where they left off last week, the Panthers have jumped to a 10-0 lead behind a 22-yard reserve by Ted Ginn Jr. Cam Newton rolled out to his right and pitched the ball to Ginn, who raced around left end, then switched fields and outran defenders to the end zone.

Ginn set up the score against his former team with a 32-yard punt return.

The Panthers rolled to a 31-0 first-half lead against Seattle last week in the divisional playoffs then held on to win 31-24.

– Steve Reed reporting from Charlotte, North Carolina

___

7:06 p.m.

Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians vowed to be more aggressive early on against the Carolina Panthers.

He’s living up to his word.

The Cardinals are doing just that with Carson Palmer going deep twice in the first two offensive possessions against the Carolina secondary, but coming up empty both times. Still, there is the potential for big plays there if Palmer can get protection.

The Cardinals felt they were too conservative in their play calling against Green Bay in the divisional playoffs.

– Steve Reed reporting from Charlotte, North Carolina

___

6:57 p.m.PANTHERS 3, CARDINALS 0

Graham Gano’s 45-yard field goal has given the Carolina Panthers a 3-0 lead over the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC championship game.

Arizona had the ball first but was forced into a three-and-out. Cam Newton completed 4 of 5 passes for 35 yards to get the Panthers into field goal range.

– Steve Reed reporting from Charlotte, North Carolina

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