Panthers' fast starts in playoffs keyed run to Super Bowl
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Denver Broncos may want to make sure they get off to a fast start if they hope to beat the Carolina Panthers in the Super Bowl.
Cam Newton and the Panthers have been dominant in the first half of their postseason games, outscoring Arizona and Seattle by a combined margin of 55-7.
That's been the norm this season for the Panthers.
They doubled the output of their opponents in the regular season, outscoring them 265-121 in the first half.
Newton said it has nothing to do with rah-rah pre-game speeches, attributing the team's fast starts to preparation.
"Our coaches do an unbelievable job with preparing us for the moment," Newton said. "Coach (Ron Rivera) has a saying, 'You don't have to be prepared today, nor tomorrow, but you have to be prepared to play on Sunday.' So, that's kind of been our philosophy in staying in the same groove and the process — and hopefully that it carries over to the game."
It certainly has Denver quarterback Peyton Manning's attention.
"As you watch the game unfold, you see the scoreboard and it's just 7-0, it's 14-0," Manning said. "It's like the guy singing the National Anthem is still on the field, you know, the game hasn't started yet.
"So, they feed off each other, is what you gather from the film. The offense takes advantage of the turnovers that the defense gets them. That's the sign of a great football team."
It has worked well for Carolina, especially in the playoffs.
The fast-starting Panthers have scored six touchdowns and two field goals in 13 first half possessions in the postseason. Carolina's defense has also scored with Luke Kuechly returning an interception for a TD against the Seahawks.
Rivera praised his coaching staff, but said the players are the main reason the team has been ready to go on game day.
There are routinely 30 to 40 players on the field well after the completion of practice.
Cornerback Josh Norman has his own routine, sitting on the ground and having members of the staff fire passes at him from close range. Others are lined up to catch balls fired out of the jugs machine. Even Newton, a league MVP candidate, is a regular after practice, sticking around to work on timing with his receivers.
Inside the stadium, Newton and linebacker Luke Kuechly set the tone by staying late into the night watching game film and coming to the stadium to review more film on Tuesdays, the typical players' day off.
Rivera said that type of leadership has had a trickle-down effect.
"These are the guys that always seem to be able to go above and beyond and they've done it for five seasons," Rivera said. "We've always asked that you do something extra and our guys do that and I think that's what has helped in terms of our preparation. ... One of the nice things that I'm really grateful for is the fact that I think our guys have taken ownership of a lot of things in this building."
The Broncos would certainly prefer not to dig themselves a hole in the Super Bowl like they did two years ago when fell behind 22-0 at halftime to the Seahawks and lost 43-8.
But this year's team has shown a penchant for orchestrating some quality comebacks.
The Broncos are the only team in NFL history ever to overcome 14-point deficits in one season against three playoff-bound teams — New England, Kansas City and Cincinnati.
Denver cornerback Aqib Talib said it will be important for the Broncos to match Carolina's energy.
"They're playing great football right now," Talib said. Newton "is throwing the ball amazing right now, and then you know what he can do with his legs. He's the best of both worlds. He's probably the most dangerous quarterback in the NFL right now."
Talib said Newton's speed and 6-foot-5, 245-pound frame makes him difficult to defend.
"Super unique," Talib said. "I've never seen anybody who is that size."