Of­fence vs. of­fence

Pan­thers to meet Car­di­nals in NFC cham­pi­onship game

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - SPORTS - THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Cam New­ton. Larry Fitzger­ald.

Two of the big­gest stars play­ing for the two high­est scor­ing teams with a Su­per Bowl berth on the line.

Wel­come to the NFC cham­pi­onship game – the Ari­zona Car­di­nals and Carolina Pan­thers next Sun­day in Char­lotte, N.C.

The Pan­thers held on to beat the Seat­tle Sea­hawks 31-24 on Sun­day, knock­ing the two-time de­fend­ing NFC champs out of the post-sea­son with their 12th straight home win.

Now they’ll host the NFC cham­pi­onship game for the first time in fran­chise his­tory.

“To get some­thing that you’ve never got, you have to do some­thing that you’ve never done,” New­ton said of the team’s quest to win its first Su­per Bowl.

The Car­di­nals (14-3) beat the Green Bay Pack­ers 26-20 in over­time on Satur­day night to ad­vance. The Pan­thers and Car­di­nals have not played this sea­son, but this has the po­ten­tial to be a high-scor­ing matchup. The Pan­thers av­er­aged more than 31 points this sea­son and the Car­di­nals were a close se­cond at 30.5. Fitzger­ald had eight catches for 176 yards and a touch­down in the win over the Pack­ers, but Palmer strug­gled most of the game with in­ac­cu­rate passes.

“It’s easy to dwell on (bad plays),” said Palmer, who like New­ton is a for­mer No. 1 pick and Heis­man Tro­phy win­ner. “But the ex­pe­ri­ence I have, I’ve learned from a lot of op­por­tu­ni­ties and sit­u­a­tions. You’ve got to for­get about it and move on. There is no other thought.”

New­ton said the key will be to not make mis­takes and, if the team gets a lead, to not let off the gas.

“We were con­ser­va­tive, but at the end of the day, you have to trust coach­ing,” New­ton said. “We had a great plan com­ing in. We just got to keep putting it back to­gether. We’re get­ting a lot of guys back, watch this film, get bet­ter on it and get ready for Ari­zona.”

Ari­zona won in its only other NFC cham­pi­onship game ap­pear­ance in 2008 be­fore los­ing to the Pitts­burgh Steel­ers 27-23 in the Su­per Bowl.

It is Carolina’s fourth ap­pear­ance in the NFC ti­tle game, but first since 2005. The Pan­thers are 1-2 in their pre­vi­ous three ap­pear­ances, reach­ing the Su­per Bowl in 2003 be­fore los­ing 32-29 on a late field goal to the New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots.

“It’s pretty spe­cial, it’s hard to do,” tight end Greg Olsen said of host­ing the game. “When you’re the No. 1 seed com­ing off the reg­u­lar sea­son your des­tiny is in your own hands and we took care of busi­ness against what has been the pin­na­cle of the NFC the last few years, so this was a big step for­ward as an or­ga­ni­za­tion.”

This is the third time since 2008 the Pan­thers have hosted the Car­di­nals in a play­off game.

The Car­di­nals up­set Jake Del­homme and the No. 2-seeded Pan­thers 33-13 in the divi­sional play­offs in 2008. The Pan­thers got some mea­sure of re­venge last year when they de­feated the Car­di­nals 27-16 in the wild-card round last sea­son, al­though Ari­zona was on its fourth quar­ter­back of the sea­son in Ryan Lind­ley.

AP PHOTO

Carolina Pan­thers quar­ter­back Cam New­ton cel­e­brates with fans af­ter de­feat­ing the Seat­tle Sea­hawks 31-24 Sun­day.

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