Superman rules: Panthers win NFC Championship

It has been a magical season for Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers, and also a dominant one. Now the Panthers will try to become the first team in 29 years to win the Super Bowl finishing 18-1. Carolina gets that chance following a dynamic 49-15 mauling of the Arizona Cardinals to win the NFC Championship and advance to Super Bowl 50.

These were the two best teams in football this season, which makes Carolina’s performance all the more impressive. Criticized for their perceived inability to finish, Carolina crushed Arizona’s small comeback attempt in an avalanche of turnovers. Pillsbury would be proud of the seven turnovers forced by the Panthers defense, six of those committed by Arizona QB Carson Palmer, four of those interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown. It will be a long hard offseason filled with questions for Palmer. But it would not have mattered, Carolina was the better team from the very start, once again burying their opponent before halftime. Against Seattle in the divisional round the Panthers led 31-0. Against Arizona it was 24-7, but seemed worse than that.

Carolina embarrassed Arizona throughout, with Ted Ginn literally running circles in a cartoonish run to the end zone that covered probably 100 yards in going 22 to make it 10-0. Newton dropped a deep one to Corey Brown for 86 to make it 17-0. Cam reached over effortlessly from the ‘one’ like grabbing a cookie jar from the high shelf the kids cannot reach, for 24-7. There was a rare mistake by Cam with a red zone interception, but then Palmer followed that with his own red zone pick, with coverages continually proving confusing. Then came an 80-yard, 7:07 drive with the opening possession of the second half to crush the Cardinals spirit 27-7. Newton, like one of his Play 60 kids, ran around turning nothing with a 3rd-and-10 hole into 11 yards with a first down—then followed that up with a 12-yard run to the corner, 34-7. Greg Olsen rambled on for a 54-yard gain setting up Newton-to-Funchess from ‘five,’ then the two-point conversion, 42-15, and Luke Kuechly with a Pick Six to put a cap on it. It was men against boys all night long.

Newly minted as the NFL Offensive Player of the Year and Most Valuable Player, Cam Newton did not allow this moment to pass him by. Always a big game star with a penchant for the dramatic, Newton lives for these occasions, and the Cardinals never stood a chance. Newton completed 19 passes in 28 attempts, for 335 yards, and two touchdowns. He also ran for 47 yards and two more touchdowns. It was a performance for the ages, leading his team as always, and there is now one last mountain to climb in this amazing season for this quarterback and this team.

As for Arizona, it was the story of a great team, playing its worst imaginable game, at the worst possible time. Nothing went right, and only rookie running back David Johnson shone on this night. Johnson caught nine passes for 68 yards while rushing 15 times for another 60, scoring a touchdown. But Larry Fitzgerald, who carried them past Green Bay, dropped half as many as the four he caught and twice as many as he had in the first 17 games of this season. Arizona is building and figures to have more opportunities, but it will be Carolina playing Denver in this year’s edition of the big game. In the end, there was absolutely no denying the better team and its Superman quarterback.