Panthers to meet Cardinals in NFC championship game

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — 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, North Carolina.

The Panthers held on to beat the Seattle Seahawks 31-24 on Sunday, knocking the two-time defending NFC champs out of the postseason 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 Carson 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.

"A lot of us wouldn't mind going back there to Carolina and playing those guys again since they beat us last year when we had a lot of injuries," Cardinals cornerback Justin Bethel said.

If the game is close, Olsen said the Panthers are well prepared.

"I guess we're used to it — I know we have some strong tickers," Olsen said. "We have been through some drama and some stress, but we have a lot of character in this room and guys who understand what it means for the Panthers and play for one another. We just have to play it until the end."


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