One week after racing out to a 31-0 second-quarter lead over Seattle, the Carolina Panthers showed no mercy against Arizona in the NFC Championship. Carolina led 17-0 after the first quarter, 24-7 at halftime, 34-7 through three and ultimately won 49-15.

The Panthers, who are 17-1 this season, will face Denver in Super Bowl 50 on Feb. 7.

“I’ve been around this game a long time – and I’ve seem some really good teams. I’ve been a part of a Super Bowl,” former Panthers offensive lineman and current Charlotte-based radio host Frank Garcia said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “But this team right now has a belief and a confidence about them. They’ve gotten better. They’re peaking at the right time. To have the type of magical season they’ve had and to really do what they’ve been doing and doing it at the right time is what’s making this team so special.”

Carolina started the year 14-0, but many people – including Tiki Barber and Brandon Tierney – still weren’t sure what to make of the Panthers. Seven of those 14 wins were by one possession, and Carolina seemed to lack the requisite offensive weaponry to be as dominant as its record suggested.

But what about the city of Carolina? When did the fans truly buy in?

“I think this city has kind of taken the stance, ‘It’s us against the world. If you don’t like it, you got to stop it,’” Garcia said. “Sometimes you get a little angry about the way other people are talking about you, but this city had always felt this team was pretty good. I think it really happened after that win versus the Seahawks early in the season when they were able to go out there and beat them and kind of get that monkey off their back and have that feeling that, ‘We’re no longer the little brother. We’ve stepped up and we’ve punched the bully in the face.’ That’s really where this team started feeling a lot of momentum. This team has just found a way each and every game to figure it out and get it done. They’re playing great football right now.”

As for the NFC Championship, Garcia said that the Panthers “have less deficiencies than the Cardinals” and would beat them “probably 70 percent of the time.” It’s hard to argue with that, especially given Cam Newton’s performance. The former Heisman Trophy winner was 19-of-28 for 335 yards and two touchdowns and also rushed 10 times for 47 yards and two scores.

Carson Palmer, meanwhile, threw four interceptions and lost two fumbles.

“Cam has been the difference-maker for this team,” Garcia said. “ You just can’t account for him. Everything breaks down and he runs quarterback draw or lead or power and just runs over the top of you. He can throw a touch pass 50 yards down the field. He just has it all night now. He’s playing with great confidence. He’s grown. He’s matured. This team isn’t going anywhere for a long time.”


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