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What We Learned: Panthers vs. Cardinals

1. GINN SPARKS PANTHERS: Wide receiver Ted Ginn, Jr. joked early in the week that the Arizona Cardinals decision to cut him a year ago didn't hurt, that, as he pointed out, Michael Jordan even got cut at one point in his life.

But of course it did hurt, and Ginn responded by bringing the pain to his former employer.

"I tried to take me out of it early in the week, but you know as well as anybody else that it meant a lot to me," Ginn said. "I tried to go out and play ball, just trying to give them that energy, and my team fed off me.

"I felt like deep down inside that they felt like I couldn't do it, and they sent me back out to the wolves."

Ginn landed back in Carolina, where he had thrived in 2013, and he's enjoying a career year. He scored the first touchdown Sunday on a spectacular 22-yard touchdown run – an opportunity set up by his 32-yard punt return. And, late in the third quarter, his 39-yard catch set up a touchdown that basically put the game out of reach.

But his most important play may have come in between. Late in the first half, with Arizona gaining momentum for the first time (and what proved the only time), Ginn tracked down cornerback Patrick Peterson from behind to prevent him from returning an interception all the way for a touchdown. On the next play, safety Kurt Coleman answered with an interception of his own, and the Cardinals were never really heard from again.

"When you're in a dogfight, every play counts," Ginn said. "I just tried my hardest and didn't stop on the play, and me going down and running it down helped us get an interception."

2. CAM IN CONTROL, UNDER CONTROL: Quarterback Cam Newton insisted all week that he didn't feel pressure to perform in the NFC Championship, and in the biggest moment of his NFL career, he played with as much poise as he ever has.

"I didn't want to try to do too much. I just wanted to get the ball to the right guys and give them opportunities," said Newton, who passed for 335 yards, ran for 47 yards and accounted for two touchdowns in each area. "Facing a defense that has so much firepower and talent and athleticism as the Cardinals, with them showing so many different looks, I just wanted to stay on the plus side of the pendulum as far as down and distance.

"Being in third-and-three or second-and-short made a big difference rather than being in third-and-long."

Running back Jonathan Stewart helped with that goal, rushing for 83 yards, and tight end Greg Olsen was Newton's safety valve per usual and then some, with 113 receiving yards.

3. CHAMPIONSHIPS ARE FOR CLOSERS: Defensive tackle Kawann Short knows as well as anyone how dominant his team can be, but the level of domination Sunday surprised even him.

"It's surprising," Short said. "We know those guys are good. They were in the NFC Championship for a reason. We respect them, but we felt we were a great team, too, and we came out and played great."

Four times this season against teams with potent quarterbacks, the Panthers were dominant enough to build big leads but had to hang on at the end. The list included Carolina's playoff victory over Seattle the week before, but there were no such scares this time.

Leading 24-7 at half, the Panthers extended the lead to 34-7 late in the third quarter and after allowing one touchdown, Carolina came up with takeaways on three consecutive drives.

"When we got into the third quarter, I told (offensive coordinator) Mike Shula and (defensive coordinator) Sean McDermott to call their game, be themselves," head coach Ron Rivera said. "They did a great job."

4. ADDING TO THE LEGEND OF LUKE: Linebacker Luke Kuechly certainly isn't one to relax until the clock hits zero – apparently even when an interception return for a touchdown with just five minutes left gives his team a 34-point lead in its quest to reach the Super Bowl.

"No, not yet," Kuechly said. "You look at the score and there's still time left on the clock, and you've got to really think, 'All right, we've got to keep playing because the game's not over yet.'"

That mentality no doubt helped Kuechly record the interception in the first place, and it was a historic one at that. Paired with his 14-yard interception return for a touchdown in the NFC Divisional Playoff against Seattle, Kuechly's 22-yarder Sunday made him the first player in NFL history to record pick-sixes in consecutive playoff games.

5. FLIPPING THE FIELD: The Cardinals are known for their deep strikes on offense, and they certainly needed to go deep to strike given the way Carolina would the field position battle.

Ten of Arizona's 13 possessions started at their own 21 or worse. Only one of the drives started with particularly good field position – off an interception that set the Cardinals up at Carolina's 22 – but that ended one play later with an interception. The other two started at the Arizona 26 and the 36.

Kicker Graham Gano played a big role in that, recording touchbacks on seven of his nine kickoffs.

View game action photos from Carolina's 49-15 win over Arizona in the NFC Championship.

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