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Panthers stomp Cardinals, advance to Super Bowl 50


This was Cam Newton's season. And it's about to become Cam Newton's world after the Carolina Panthers dismantled the Arizona Cardinals 49-15 in the NFC Championship Sunday. Here's what we learned:

1. This was billed as a matchup of the best two teams in the NFL all season. But this was a one-sided affair that showed the depth of the entire Panthers' roster. Carolina's offensive line dominated. Cam Newton made anyone who made a case for Carson Palmer to win MVP look foolish. Ted Ginn, Corey Brown and Greg Olsen all made big catches. The secondary held up despite injuries, and the Panthers' pass rush forced decisive mistakes. Luke Kuechly added a defensive touchdown.

Cam deserves all the credit for his dominant performance and season. But this Panthers squad has been special from top to bottom. We're just annoyed the Falcons picked them off in Week 16 to ruin a potential undefeated storyline for the Super Bowl.

2. With that said, let's talk about Newton. His ever-improving accuracy was on display Sunday on the way to 335 yards on only 28 attempts. He also rushed for 47 yards and two scores, proving again that he's the best red-zone runner in football. And the most fearless. His touchdown leap and another third-and-long conversion run where he trucked Cardinals cornerback Chris Clemons were plays for Newton career highlight reel.

Panthers home games felt like a season-long celebration. A celebration of a different style of offense than we've truly ever seen. This week they leaned on pocket passing even more than the run game. This was a fitting home finale by the soon-to-be MVP.

3. Carson Palmer's six turnovers should not be lost in the shuffle. A few interceptions came late while the Cardinals were in catch-up mode, but Palmer did not look right from the beginning. He did not see the field well, forced passes and missed some routine plays. This was the second straight week Palmer played poorly after a superlative regular season. It's going to be a topic in Arizona until Palmer and this Cardinals team make it back.

4. Palmer dropped back to pass 43 times. He finished with 66 adjusted net yards, according to Pro Football Reference. Palmer averaged 8.41 per dropbacks during regular season, and 1.53 in this game. Palmer certainly came up small, but the Panthers defense deserves a ton of credit for making his life miserable.

Kawann Shortt continued his incredible run with a forced fumble. He is one of the top five defensive linemen in the league. Kurt Coleman picked off two passes. Thomas Davis was all over the field until he hurt his arm. Luke Kuechly helped kill drives. And the entire unsung secondary shut down Michael Floyd, Larry Fitzgerald, and John Brown to a combined 80 yards. It is remarkable to see an entire team play so well all at once.

5. The Panthers are thought of as a defense-first team, but the offense has led the way in the playoffs. The offensive line gave Newton all day to throw and they still present the most complex running game in the league. Corey Brown's 86-yard touchdown to give the Panthers a 17-0 lead in first quarter felt like a backbreaker. They made the second-best team in the NFL look like slappies.

6. Carolina came out of the game with some injury concerns. Davis has an broke his right arm, although he told reporters afterwards that he "wouldn't miss the Super Bowl for the world." That's not up to him. Safety Roman Harper also left with an eye injury and did not return.

7. The Panthers will head to their second Super Bowl in team history as favorites. It will be tough to score 49 points on the Broncos' defense, but this is a team peaking at the right time. This has been Cam Newton's year and Sunday only reinforced that.


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