CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Quarterback Cam Newton rushed for two touchdowns and passed for two more as the Carolina Panthers cruised into a spot in the Super Bowl by blasting the mistake-prone Arizona Cardinals 49-15 in the NFC championship game Sunday night at Bank of America Stadium.
“We’re not done yet,” Newton said during the NFC championship trophy celebration on the field Sunday.
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, resulting in a loss to New England.
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 12 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 safety Kurt Coleman.
Newton completed 19 of 28 passes for 335 yards. He gained 47 rushing yards on 10 carries.
Palmer was 23 of 40 for 235 yards with four interceptions.
“There was pressure all day,” Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly said. “That’s the biggest thing, pressure on the quarterback. We’ll have a good plan ready to go (for the Super Bowl).”
The Panthers used up more than seven minutes to begin the second half to produce Graham Gano’s 21-yard field goal.
When the Panthers got the ball back, they chewed up another four minutes before Newton’s 12-yard touchdown run and built the lead to 34-7.
For a team that was outscored 24-0 in the second half a week earlier by Seattle, the Panthers showed a killer instinct the team discussed all week.
Palmer hooked up with tight end Darren Fells for a 21-yard touchdown in the first minute of the fourth quarter.
The Panthers responded with Newton’s 5-yard touchdown toss to wide receiver Devin Funchess – followed by a two-point conversion pass — at the 5:26 mark.
Fifteen seconds later, 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 24-7 halftime lead.
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 Seattle 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 slow 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 like 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 Panthers defensive end 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.
Cornerback Cortland Finnegan, who was a midseason acquisition, made a couple of key defensive plays in the first quarter for the Panthers.
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 Philadelphia in 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 suffered 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.