For the second straight week, the Carolina Panthers went in with a big halftime lead but unlike last week, the team didn't let up and blew out the Arizona Cardinals by a final score of 49-15, led by a defense that forced seven turnovers. The Panthers jumped out quickly, as they have for most of the year, and before the end of the first quarter were up 17-0.
The offense, was able to score on their first three possessions of the game with a field goal, followed by a 22-yard touchdown run by Ted Ginn Jr. and then an 86-yard touchdown pass from Cam Newton to Philly Brown. The Cardinals were able to answer with a touchdown of their own by running back David Johnson to cut the lead to 10, however that would be the closest Arizona would be to the Panthers.
Led by Newton, who would have two rushing touchdowns and another passing touchdown, and a defense that would force five more turnovers, including an interception returned for a touchdown by Luke Kuechly, the Panthers would outscore the Cardinals 32-8.
The Panthers' quarterback had another MVP-type performance with four total touchdowns, 335 passing yards and 47 more yards rushing on the ground. The Panthers' offense was efficient and won the time of possession battle with the ball over 36 minutes against the Cardinals.
The biggest storyline though has to be the defense and how they were able to shut down the second highest scoring offense in the regular season. The defense, which was without Jared Allen and then lost Roman Harper and Thomas Davis in the first half, put together their best collective performance of the year.
The defensive line controlled the line of scrimmage and was the catalyst for this performance by putting steady pressure on Palmer, finishing the game with three sacks. The pressure forced the Cardinals quarterback into some errant throws and bad decisions that resulted in six of the Cardinals seven turnovers. Safety Kurt Coleman had two of those interceptions and Tre Boston, who replaced Harper, had an interception and a fumble recovery.
The Panthers are now the NFC Conference Champions and will be heading to San Francisco to take on the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 50 on February 7th. This will be the franchise's second trip to the Super Bowl and the first time since 2004, when they lost to the New England Patriots 32-29.