January 24, 2016
Carolina Panthers' Cam Newton leaps into the end zone for a touchdown 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)
Mike McCarn

The Latest from the NFL conference championship games Sunday. (All times EST)

10:25 p.m.

The Carolina Panthers are one happy group of football players heading to the Super Bowl.

With chants of ''MVP, MVP, MVP!' ringing in his ears, all Cam Newton could do was let out a scream and raise his arms as he spoke into the microphone.

''I'm excited! I'm excited!'' an elated Newton said after dabbing his way for two touchdown runs and two scoring passes in leading the Panthers to a 49-15 rout of Arizona Cardinals in the NFC championship game.

Considered a front-runner for NFL MVP honors, Newton will lead his team against five-time MVP winner Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl on Feb. 7 in Santa Clara, California.

''We're not done yet,'' Newton said on the podium on the field as he and teammates smiled and took in the cheers of the hometown fans in accepting the conference title trophy.

The Panthers forced the Cardinals into seven turnovers, six by Carson Palmer, including four interceptions. Now comes the test against Manning, considered one of the NFL's greatest quarterbacks.

''We've just got to try to get some pressure on him,'' Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly said. ''That's the biggest thing. You've got to try and get after them early and our guys do a great with that and we'll have a good play ready to go.''

Oddsmakers are now posting the Panthers as early 4-point favorites for the Super Bowl on Feb. 7 in Santa Clara, California.

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9:57 p.m.

PANTHERS 49, CARDINALS 15

Bring on Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers are ready for the Super Bowl, too.

Newton is headed to his first Super Bowl after an MVP-like performance, running and passing the Panthers to a 49-15 rout of the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC championship game on Sunday night.

In the AFC title game, 39-year-old Peyton Manning threw two TD passes and Denver's defense pounded Tom Brady all day as the Broncos beat the New England Patriots 20-18 after intercepting a potential game-tying 2-point conversion pass by Brady with 12 seconds left.

In Charlotte, North Carolina, the Panthers came up with seven turnovers, including Luke Kuechly returning an interception 22 yards for a touchdown with just over five minutes left in the game. Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer threw four interceptions.

Chants of ''Super Bowl! Super Bowl'' rang out in the final minutes of the game

Newton had a stellar day completing 19 of 28 passes for 335 yards and two touchdowns and also ran for 47 yards and two scores in dabbing his way to the NFL title game.

The Panthers, with the best record in the NFL at 17-1, will be playing in their second Super Bowl. The Broncos (14-4) are set for their eighth title game. The 39-year-old Manning, who could be playing in his final game, is set for his fourth Super Bowl - two with Indianapolis and now his second in four years with the Broncos.

The Super Bowl is Feb. 7 in Santa Clara, California.

In early Super Bowl odds posted in the final minutes of the Panthers' win, Carolina is listed as a 3 1/2-point favorite

- Steve Reed reporting from Charlotte, North Carolina

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9:15 p.m.

PANTHERS 34, CARDINALS 15

Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers can't celebrate quite yet.

The Arizona Cardinals are looking to mount a fourth quarter comeback against Carolina - and they are off to a good start.

They've cut Carolina's lead to 34-15 on a 21-yard touchdown pass from Carson Palmer to tight end Darren Fells and a 2-point conversion run by J.J. Nelson. The Cardinals have the ball back after forcing a Carolina punt, but Palmer ended up throwing an interception in the end zone, Arizona's fifth turnover of the game.

The Panthers have struggled maintaining leads in the past against Indianapolis, Green Bay, the New York Giants and Seattle. Carolina talked about keeping their foot on the gas and now will be an interesting time to see if they follow through on the declaration.

- Steve Reed reporting from Charlotte, North Carolina

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9:06 p.m.

PANTHERS 34, CARDINALS 7

The rout appears to be on in the NFC championship game.

MVP candidate Cam Newton scored his second rushing touchdown on the game on a 12-yard run, leaping into the end zone to give the Carolina Panthers a commanding 34-7 lead over the Arizona Cardinals with 2:08 left in the third quarter.

Newton set up the score with an 11-yard run for a first down in which he dived for a first down and then spiked the ball as Superman music played in the background.

Newton has run for 33 yards on nine carries with two TDs.

The Panthers have run for 115 yards on 24 carries.

- Steve Reed reporting from Charlotte, North Carolina

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8:45 p.m.

PANTHERS 27, CARDINALS 7

Graham Gano has kicked his second field goal of the game - a 21-yarder - to put the Panthers up 27-7.

Cam Newton is 12 of 19 for 211 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He has rushed six times for 11 yards and a touchdown.

- Steve Reed reporting from Charlotte, North Carolina

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8:33 p.m.

The Arizona Cardinals have turned the ball over four times in the first half - three by quarterback Carson Palmer - and trail the Carolina Panthers 24-7 at halftime of the NFC championship game.

Palmer has been sacked twice and fumbled both times - one by Charles Johnson and the other by Kawann Short. Palmer also was intercepted in the end zone by safety Kurt Coleman.

Patrick Peterson also muffed a punt leading to a Carolina touchdown.

The Panthers have outgained the Cardinals 216-143 at the break. However, Carolina has surrendered bigger leads in the past, so this game is far from over.

- Steve Reed reporting from Charlotte, North Carolina

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8:14 p.m.

The Panthers have announced that linebacker Thomas Davis (right arm) and safety Roman Harper (eye) will not return.

Also, All-Pro center Ryan Kalil's return is questionable with a knee injury.

- Steve Reed reporting from Charlotte, North Carolina

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PANTHERS 24, CARDINALS 7

The Panthers took advantage of two Patrick Peterson mistakes and have opened a 24-7 lead against the Arizona Cardinals on a leaping 1-yard touchdown run by Cam Newton.

The Panthers scored five plays after Peterson muffed a punt near midfield and then was called for defensive holding on the next play from scrimmage to give Carolina a first down.

Jonathan Stewart had two runs of 17 and 23 yards set up the score.

- Steve Reed reporting from Charlotte, North Carolina

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7:50 p.m.

PANTHERS 17, CARDINALS 7

Running back David Johnson got the Arizona Cardinals on the board with a 1-yard touchdown run late in the second quarter on a drive in which Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis left the game with a right arm injury.

The Cardinals drove 79 yards on 10 plays and Johnson went up the middle for the score.

Davis, who has had an exceptional game with six tackles - including two for a loss -headed to the sideline before the touchdown to get looked at by physicians. The Panthers said his return is questionable.

Earlier in the game safety Roman Harper left with an eye injury and has not returned. That is two key veteran players for the Panthers.

Meanwhile, the Panthers are backing in scoring position at the two-minute warning.

- Steve Reed reporting from Charlotte, North Carolina

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7:32 p.m.

PANTHERS 17, CARDINALS 0

Cam Newton hooked up with wide receiver Philly Brown on an 86-yard touchdown pass to give the Carolina Panthers a 17-0 lead with 49 seconds left in the first quarter.

Newton beat a blitz and fired over the middle for Brown, who caught the ball near midfield, eluded a tackle from safety Rashad Johnson and raced the final 50 yards to the end zone.

The crowd immediately erupted into chants of ''MVP! MVP! MVP!'' after Newton's TD strike.

The Panthers (16-1) have scored on their first three possessions after scoring on their first five possessions last week against the Seattle Seahawks.

Meanwhile, the Cardinals have punted on their first three possessions.

Newton is 7 of 9 for 135 yards and one touchdown.

- Steve Reed reporting from Charlotte, North Carolina

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7:30 p.m.

California, here comes Peyton Manning.

Can there be a better ending for one of the NFL's greatest quarterbacks?

Thanks to a ferocious defense that hammered Tom Brady all day long, Manning and his Denver Broncos are Super Bowl-bound after a nail-biting 20-18 win over the defending Super Bowl champs.

At 39, Manning now becomes the oldest quarterback to take his team to a Super Bowl. The oldest before him? His current boss, John Elway.

''That's a tremendous honor. It's been a special four years playing here in Denver for these great fans and for this great organization,'' Manning said after throwing for two touchdowns and scrambling for 12 yards for his longest playoff run since his rookie season. ''To be going to our second Super Bowl in four years is very special and just an awesome effort by our entire team tonight, what an incredible effort by the Patriots. For us to beat that team today, a very special win.''

The Broncos (14-4) play the winner of the NFC title game between Carolina and Arizona. The Panthers have jumped to a 17-0 lead.

The Super Bowl is Feb. 7 in Santa Clara, California.

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7:16 p.m.

PANTHERS 10, CARDINAL 0

The Carolina Panthers are at it again.

Picking up where they left off last week, the Panthers have jumped to a 10-0 lead behind a 22-yard reserve by Ted Ginn Jr. Cam Newton rolled out to his right and pitched the ball to Ginn, who raced around left end, then switched fields and outran defenders to the end zone.

Ginn set up the score against his former team with a 32-yard punt return.

The Panthers rolled to a 31-0 first-half lead against Seattle last week in the divisional playoffs then held on to win 31-24.

- Steve Reed reporting from Charlotte, North Carolina

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7:06 p.m.

Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians vowed to be more aggressive early on against the Carolina Panthers.

He's living up to his word.

The Cardinals are doing just that with Carson Palmer going deep twice in the first two offensive possessions against the Carolina secondary, but coming up empty both times. Still, there is the potential for big plays there if Palmer can get protection.

The Cardinals felt they were too conservative in their play calling against Green Bay in the divisional playoffs.

- Steve Reed reporting from Charlotte, North Carolina

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6:57 p.m.

PANTHERS 3, CARDINALS 0

Graham Gano's 45-yard field goal has given the Carolina Panthers a 3-0 lead over the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC championship game.

Arizona had the ball first but was forced into a three-and-out. Cam Newton completed 4 of 5 passes for 35 yards to get the Panthers into field goal range.

- Steve Reed reporting from Charlotte, North Carolina

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6:43 p.m.

BRONCOS 20, PATRTIOTS 18

Peyton Manning is headed to the Super Bowl, and so are his Denver Broncos.

Thanks to a ferocious defense that befuddled Tom Brady all day, the Broncos held on for 20-18 win over the New England Patriots and will play the NFC champions in the Super Bowl on Feb.7 in Santa Clara, California.

The Broncos are going to their eighth Super Bowl and looking for their third win. This will be Manning's second Super Bowl with Denver and fourth overall. He went to two with the Indianapolis Colts.

Oh, what an ending to this AFC title game on Sunday in Denver, too.

Brady hit two fourth-down passes on the final drive, a 40-yarder to Rob Gronkowski and a -4-yard TD pass to Gronkowski with 12 seconds to go to pull the Patriots to 20-18. The 2-point conversion pass was intercepted by the Broncos, who then recovered an onside kick to seal the win.

The Super Bowl, against the winner of the Cardinals-Panthers NFC title game later Sunday, could be the final game of Manning's career.

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6:23 p.m.

Once again, the Broncos' top-ranked defense came up big, stopping the Patriots on fourth down deep in Denver territory.

Tom Brady lobbed a pass into the end zone to Rob Gronkowski, who couldn't bring it down. Gronkowski complained to the officials that he was held on the play. He didn't get the call and Denver got the ball back just before the 2-minute warning and with a 20-12 lead.

After stopping the Broncos, the Patriots have the ball back at the 2-minute warning at the 50-yard line.

- Pat Graham reporting from Denver.

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6:03 p.m.

The Patriots gambled on fourth-and-1 at the Denver 16 and couldn't convert in the AFC championship game. Tom Brady completed a short pass to Julian Edelman, who was immediately tackled by Chris Harris Jr. short of the first-down marker, giving the ball back to Denver with 5:56 remaining and a 20-12 lead.

But the Patriots forced the Broncos to punt and have the ball with less than four minutes to go.

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5:49 p.m.

BRONCOS 20, PATRIOTS 12

Brandon McManus connected from 31 yards and the Broncos extended their lead to 20-12 over New England early in the fourth quarter of the AFC championship game.

The Broncos had first-and-goal at the 10, but couldn't punch it in. McManus hit from 52 yards just before halftime.

There's about nine minutes left in the fourth quarter.

- Pat Graham reporting from Denver.

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5:40 p.m.

Peyton Manning is 15 minutes away from going to his fourth Super Bowl. The Broncos lead 17-12 in the AFC championship game.

Should Manning go, Von Miller will be a big reason why. The Broncos linebacker has an interception and 2 1/2 sacks, which is a club record for a postseason game.

- Pat Graham reporting from Denver.

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5:28 p.m.

Peyton Manning saw some daylight and took off, looking younger than his 39 years and as if he never had suffered a left foot injury. Manning picked up 12 yards - and a first down - in the third quarter of the AFC championship game.

It was his longest postseason run since Jan. 16, 2000, against Tennessee.

The Broncos lead 17-12 late in the third quarter.

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5:15 p.m.

BRONCOS 17, PATRIOTS 12

Stephen Gostkowski connected on a 38-yard field goal and the Patriots pulled within 17-12 of the Broncos in the AFC championship game.

Gostkowski made a 46-yarder earlier in the game after missing an extra point - his first after an NFL-record 523 consecutive PATs.

Tom Brady had the Patriots on the move until the drive stalled deep in Denver territory. On a third down play, tight end Rob Gronkowski was on the sideline.

- Pat Graham reporting from Denver.

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4:55 p.m.

BRONCOS 17, PATRIOTS 9

Brandon McManus capped off an entertaining first half by hitting a 52-yard field goal as the Broncos took a 17-9 lead over the Patriots into the third quarter of the AFC championship game.

The players cleared the field for some musical entertainment as the band American Authors took center stage at the 50-yard line. They're known for their hit ''Best Day of My Life,'' which the Broncos and Patriots hope applies to them at the end of the afternoon. A trip to the Super Bowl is on the line.

The star in this game so far has been Denver's top-ranked defense, which has intercepted Tom Brady twice and sacked him two more times. Peyton Manning is 10 of 20 for 128 yards and two TDs.

Denver has the ball to start the second half.

- Pat Graham reporting from Denver.

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4:40 p.m.

This is an unusual sight: Tom Brady bloodied and picking himself up off the turf. The top-ranked defense of the Denver Broncos is applying plenty of pressure in the AFC championship game.

So far, Brady has thrown two interceptions - something he hasn't done since Dec. 6 - and been sacked twice. He's also taken several other big hits.

Brady, who has a scrape just below his elbow, has been off target all afternoon. He's 9 for 20 for 87 yards.

- Pat Graham reporting from Denver.

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4:18 p.m.

BRONCOS 14, PATRIOTS 9

Stephen Gostkowski bounced back from a rare missed extra point to hit a 46-yard field goal as New England pulled within 14-9 in the AFC championship game.

Gostkowski's kick midway through the second quarter was made possible thanks to Tom Brady's 11-yard scramble on third down earlier in the drive.

Gostkowski had made an NFL-record 523 consecutive PATs. And he had made all 60 of his kicks in the playoffs.

- Pat Graham reporting from Denver.

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4:05 p.m.

BRONCOS 14, PATRIOTS 6

There's no question who Peyton Manning's favorite target is Sunday - Owen Daniels, who caught his second touchdown pass to give the Broncos a 14-6 lead in the AFC championship game.

Manning floated a 12-yard pass to Daniels in the corner of the end zone early in the second quarter. Daniels caught a 21-yard TD pass in the first quarter.

The possession was set up by linebacker Von Miller's interception of Tom Brady. Known as a fierce pass rusher, Miller fooled Brady by dropping into coverage.

Manning came into the game with only one TD pass at home. He now has three.

- Pat Graham reporting from Denver.

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3:50 p.m.

BRONCOS 7, PATRIOTS 6

Steven Jackson scored from a yard out, but reliable kicker Stephen Gostkowski missed the extra point and the Broncos held a 7-6 in the AFC championship game after the first quarter. Jackson scored with 1:49 left in the period.

Gostkowski didn't miss an extra point all season. His PAT attempt was wide right.

New England got the ball in great field position after winning a challenge. On the play in question, Peyton Manning threw a swing pass to Ronnie Hillman that was ruled incomplete, with linebacker Jonathan Freeny picking up the bouncing football.

But the Patriots challenged and the call was overturned, giving them the ball on the Denver 22.

- Pat Graham reporting from Denver.

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3:40 p.m.

Turns out, New England does have a punter and his name is Ryan Allen. The Patriots have punted on three straight possessions in the AFC championship game.

Up to then, Tom Brady and the offense have picked up just one first down. Brady has been sacked once and knocked down another time.

Allen is averaging 49 yards on three punts.

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3:25 p.m.

BRONCOS 7, PATRIOTS 0

It wasn't in the forecast for tight end Owen Daniels to score before Rob Gronkowski in the AFC championship game. But there was Daniels, a part-time meteorologist, wide open for a 21-yard TD catch to give the Broncos a 7-0 lead over the Patriots midway through the first quarter.

Peyton Manning took advantage of a blown assignment by the Patriots to find Daniels, who waltzed into the end zone.

Manning had a nifty move earlier in the drive, when he escaped outside on a bootleg play. He looked more like a 29-year-old than a 39-year-old who's been dealing with foot injuries.

It was just Manning's second TD pass at home this season. Both have been to Daniels.

- Pat Graham reporting from Denver.

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3:07 p.m.

Even before the AFC championship game started, Patriots coach Bill Belichick made a statement by taking the ball first.

The Patriots won the coin flip and wanted to receive. Typically, teams defer to the second half.

The game is underway in Denver, with the opening kick a touchback. The referee is Ed Hochuli.

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2:42 p.m.

To make sure his hands stay nice and toasty on this sunny, 46-degree day, Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning is wearing gloves for the AFC title game against New England.

Fellow QB Tom Brady is opting to go with a glove only on his left hand.

The temperature is expected to be in the mid- to upper-40s most of the afternoon. There's a chance of rain later in the evening, but the game should be over by then and one of these teams will be on their way to the Super Bowl.

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