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Superman to the Super Bowl: Cam Newton leads Panthers over Cardinals 49-15 for NFC title and second trip to Super Bowl

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CHARLOTTE, North Carolina — Superman is bringing his cape and his pen to Super Bowl 50. He's leaving behind his camera.

"Yeah, we are going to the Super Bowl. We are not going just to take pictures," Cam Newton said Sunday after leading the Carolina Panthers into the big game with a 49-15 rout of Arizona for the NFC championship. "We are trying to finish this thing off."

That would be against Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in two weeks.

"Playing the sheriff," Newton said of Manning. "We're going to live in the moment right now. We're going to be excited."

Newton threw for two touchdowns and ran for two others, and Carolina's big-play defense stifled Arizona's top-ranked offense. The 49 points were the most for an NFC title game winner.

The NFL's new top man at quarterback — Newton is an All-Pro this season — goes against five-time MVP Manning. Carolina is favored by four points.

"We've been dreaming about this moment since Day 1," Newton said. "Our pen has a lot more ink left."

It will be Newton's first trip to the Super Bowl and the second for the Panthers (17-1), who lost to New England 12 years ago. Denver, of course, has made a habit of going to Super Bowls, reaching it for a record-tying eighth time.

And while the Broncos' defense carried it past New England 20-18 for the AFC crown, Carolina's D was just as destructive. It picked off Carson Palmer four times, forced two fumbles by him, and never let up the assault.

Special teams also had a takeaway, and when Carolina grabbed a 24-7 halftime lead this time, it didn't back off, as it did in nearly blowing a 31-point margin a week ago vs. Seattle.

When Newton flew into the end zone for a 12-yard third-quarter touchdown — no, he didn't have the cape on — he posed like a superhero, dabbed a bit, and pointed the Panthers toward the Bay Area.

Newton finished with 335 yards passing and 47 rushing as Carolina won its 13th straight home game, including three in the playoffs.

One of his biggest helpers was Ted Ginn Jr., who was dumped by the Cardinals after last season. Ginn had a 32-yard punt return to set up his weaving 22-yard TD run, and chased down All-Pro cornerback Patrick Peterson to prevent a second-quarter touchdown. He also had 52 yards on two receptions.

"Yes, it was personal," Ginn said. "My team knew it was personal."

Carolina's defense did the rest, most notably making Palmer uncomfortable in the pocket and turning Larry Fitzgerald, the star of last week's overtime victory against Green Bay, into a virtual non-entity. It led the league with 39 takeaways, and at times it made an Arizona team that gained more yards than anyone look amateurish.

"We wanted to come out and play a complete game and I think the guys up front played exceptional," linebacker Luke Kuechly said. "There was pressure all day."

PHOTO: Carolina Panthers' Ted Ginn gets past Arizona Cardinals' Justin Bethel for a touchdown run during the first half the NFL football NFC Championship game Sunday, Jan. 24, 2016, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
Carolina Panthers' Ted Ginn gets past Arizona Cardinals' Justin Bethel for a touchdown run during the first half the NFL football NFC Championship game Sunday, Jan. 24, 2016, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

Capping the barrage was Kuechly, who returned an interception 22 yards for a score. The 49 points were the most this season for Carolina, which led the NFL with 500. The last time a team scored as many in a conference title game was 1990: Buffalo 51, the Raiders 3 in the AFC.

The scoring started quickly, as it did for the Panthers against the Seahawks. Newton hit four passes for 35 yards on their opening drive and Graham Gano hit from 45 yards for a 3-0 lead.

Criticized for being too conservative against Green Bay, Palmer let it fly from the outset. He just connected too many times with the Panthers.

"I kept digging us in a hole and we just couldn't come out of it," Palmer said.

Ginn's 32-yard punt return set up the Panthers at the Arizona 49. Six plays later, he took a pitch from Newton, headed left and broke a tackle by Justin Bethel. Just as quickly as he was surrounded by red shirts, the swift Ginn emerged to cut across the field into the end zone for a 10-0 lead.

Nearly as swiftly, it was 17-0. Newton fired a dart to Philly Brown. Another botched tackle, this one at the Carolina 47 by Rashad Johnson, left Brown with nothing but unprotected turf.

Arizona finally moved into Carolina territory, only to see Kawann Short sack Palmer and strip the ball.

The Cardinals kept trying, and put together a 79-yard scoring drive on which David Johnson starred after an ignominious start. He was plastered by All-Pro linebacker Thomas Davis for a 6-yard loss on the first play of the series, then came back to gain 25 yards, including a 1-yard TD dive.

Davis, who already had six tackles, left with a broken right forearm during that drive.

"I will do whatever it takes (to play)," he said of the Super Bowl.

Peterson made a huge muff trying to field a punt later in the second period. Jonathan Stewart ran for 17 and 23 yards — more missed tackles by the Arizona defense — and Newton leaped to extend the ball over the goal line from the 1.

He followed with a dab or two, handed the ball to a fan in the end zone, and ran to the sideline to chants of "MVP! MVP!"

There were plenty more of those during the trophy celebration, and fans danced in the stands as the loudspeaker played "Shout."

Palmer was performing like anything but an MVP.

On Arizona's first play after Peterson's muff, Palmer was sacked and fumbled. Newton gave it back when Peterson picked him off and ran 72 yards to the Carolina 23 — and Palmer gave that one back with a weak throw Kurt Coleman intercepted in the end zone.

At one point, the Cardinals had turnovers on three consecutive plays: the muff, Palmer's fumble, and Coleman's first of two picks.

"We're Thieves Avenue," Coleman said.


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PHOTO: Carolina Panthers' Cam Newton celebrates a first down run during the second half the NFL football NFC Championship game against the Arizona Cardinals Sunday, Jan. 24, 2016, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Mike McCarn)
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