CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers were at the pinnacle of their game the last time they faced the Arizona Cardinals in January.
Newton threw for two touchdowns and ran for two more as the Panthers walloped the Cardinals 49-15 in the NFC championship to advance to the franchise's second Super Bowl. But things have gone downhill since for Carolina (1-5), which enters Sunday's rematch against Arizona (3-3-1) in dire need of a victory and looking to snap a four-game losing streak.
''We don't need no messages. We out of messages. We out of things that need to be said. We out of big, rah-rah speeches and everybody saying believe,'' Newton said. ''Man, listen, we gotta win. That's it.''
Carolina's offense, which led the league in scoring last season, showed signs of life in a 41-38 loss to the Saints before the bye week in Newton's first game back from a concussion. But the Panthers will face a defense that has been outstanding in recent weeks, limiting the New York Jets and Seattle Seahawks to a combined nine points in the last nine quarters.
Arians said Arizona's biggest problem in the NFC championship game is it got behind early and began to press under pressure - something the Cardinals can't afford to do on Sunday.
''The big thing is you can't let them get a big lead or any kind of lead because they're really good when they have a lead,'' Arians said.
Here are some things to watch in the Cardinals-Panthers game:
NEWTON RUNNING: Newton only ran twice against the Saints in his first game back from a concussion, but said this week he won't let the head injury affect how he approaches the game moving forward.
The Cardinals expect a full dose of Newton.
''Having that freak of nature running down between the hashes and down the sidelines, that's not supposed to happen,'' Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson said. ''It would definitely be a blessing to not prepare for Cam Newton as a runner, but we know that's not reality. That is his game. You can tell that gets him into the game. That gets him fired up.''
JONES' IMPACT: Arians called his defense's performance against Seattle the best he's seen since he took over as Cardinals coach in 2013.
A big reason for Arizona's improved play is the addition of Chandler Jones, who had a strip sack of Russell Wilson. He draws so much attention that young Markus Golden has had chances to make big plays, too. Golden leads the team with six sacks; Jones has five.
''He can do some things that we weren't able to do in the past,'' Peterson said of Jones. ''(We can) play a little bit more coverage and let him and Markus get after the quarterback, which they have been doing such a phenomenal job for us throughout the season.''
RUNNING WILD: The Cardinals have undergone something of a personality change. They haven't been able to connect for big passing plays, and have become more reliant on running back David Johnson.
The versatile third-round pick out of Northern Iowa leads the NFL in yards from scrimmage with 1,004. He had 113 yards rushing and 58 receiving against Seattle and came within inches of scoring the winning TD in overtime. He has at least 100 yards from scrimmage in all seven games this season.
''The biggest thing for young guys is opportunity,'' Arians said of Johnson. ''He got opportunities last year through injuries and made the best of them. He's continued to progress this year.''
CAROLINA'S SECONDARY: Carolina's secondary could be just what Carson Palmer needs to get on track. Carolina has allowed 13 touchdowns through the air and eight passing plays of 40 yards or more.
Carolina will get cornerbacks James Bradberry and Robert McClain back from injuries , but the Panthers were struggling on defense even before they got hurt. Coach Ron Rivera said if everything stays the same Worley and McClain would start against the Cardinals.
''You didn't see the deep balls completed on them last year and it's happened on the tapes this year,'' Arians said. ''Young guys get hit with double moves, and veterans too, but young guys are pressing so hard that communication can get a little screwed up.''
KICKING WOES: Both teams have kickers in need of a confidence boost.
Chandler Catanzaro missed a chip shot field goal in overtime that would have given Arizona a victory Sunday night against the Seahawks. Likewise, Carolina's Graham Gano has been off his game. He has missed two key field goals this season, including a 50-yarder against the Broncos in Week 1 at the end of regulation that would have helped the Panthers extract revenge for their Super Bowl loss last season. He also missed an extra point that would have tied the game against the Saints in the fourth quarter on Oct. 16.
AP Sports Writer Bob Baum in Tempe, Arizona contributed to this report.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL