Newton threw for two touchdowns and ran for two more, and linebacker
"We were able to put ourselves in position to make plays. Our guys flew around. They hustled," head coach Ron Rivera said. "I think this is really neat, I really do. I'm excited about the opportunity. More so than anything else, I'm excited for this organization."
Carolina will face the Denver Broncos on Feb. 7 at Levi's Stadium, home of the San Francisco 49ers (6:30 p.m., CBS). The Broncos won the AFC title with a 20-18 victory over the New England Patriots earlier Sunday.
The Panthers dominated the early portions of the game by dominating both lines of scrimmage, and they never let up. Last week, the Panthers rolled to a 31-0 halftime lead in a Division Playoff against Seattle before holding on for a 31-24 victory. Sunday, leading 24-7 at halftime, they took the opening kickoff of the second half and kept the ball more than seven minutes before kicking a field goal.
The defense – minus linebacker
"When we were getting ready to come out for the second half, I didn't have to say anything. The players said it," Rivera said. "Cam Newton stepped up and really challenged everybody. They took ownership.
"I like the energy they came out with."
That applied to the beginning of the game as well, when the Panthers made a statement early in the first NFC Championship game ever hosted by the organization. Carolina's first three drives of the game resulted in scores as the Panthers consistently controlled things along the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.
"I just tried to become an athlete," Ginn said. "I got around the corner but (cornerback Justin) Bethel held me up a little bit, but that let me see the defense a little bit, and then I just continued on the journey.
"It had shut down, but Pops always told me to use my shoes, so I just tried to use my shoes, and I had two blockers on the other side and did what I could do."
On Carolina's next possession, facing a third-and-long from its own 14-yard line, Newton spotted
"I know the big buzz all week was about their receiving core and quarterbacks and how they take a lot of shots deep," cornerback
"You're going to make some mistakes. That's part of football – it's not going to be a perfect game – but if you stick together every single play and you want it more than the other guy across from you, it's going to show."
McClain and Co. sparkled in part because Carolina's front seven didn't give quarterback Carson Palmer time to get comfortable.
"Our defensive line, we know we can be the best in the league if we come out and communicate and get off the ball," defensive tackle
Arizona did threaten to get back into it midway through the second quarter, when the Cardinals pieced together a 79-yard touchdown drive, capped by David Johnson's 1-yard touchdown run with 5:44 left in the half.
The Arizona defense followed with a three-and-out, and the Cardinals appeared set to get good field position off a short
Craziness ensued from there, with three of the next four plays resulting in turnovers but with both teams missing out on scoring opportunities in the process. A Peterson interception and 72-yard return to the Carolina 22 negated a scoring chance created by a
"It was a big momentum shift," Coleman said. "Tre had the fumble recovery, we were in position, and (tight end)
"That gave the defense another opportunity to line up and play, and obviously it turned into an interception that didn't allow them to get any points. Then we got the ball to start the second half and scored."
Coleman added a second interception midway through the fourth quarter, and Newton directed an 86-yard drive capped by a 5-yard touchdown pass to rookie
"It's unbelievable, to do this at home in front of this crowd," center
"We're out there with the confetti celebrating, but when you walk by every guy, they say, ‘One more. We've got one more.' We've got work left to do."