The Carolina Panthers will contest just the second Super Bowl in their history against the Denver Broncos at Levi's Stadium on Sunday. Here we break down how Ron Rivera's men made it Super Bowl 50.
A 4-0 start
With the Panthers having limped into the play-offs last season and lost top wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin to a knee ligament injury in August, few tipped quarterback Cam Newton and his cast of no-name receivers for success. However, Carolina quickly set about proving the doubters wrong, cruising to wins over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Houston Texans and Tampa Bay Buccaneers and claiming a frenetic 27-22 victory over the NFC South rival New Orleans Saints to start 4-0.
Olsen silences the Seahawks
Carolina faced their first real test of the season in Week 6 against the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field, where their play-off run in the previous campaign had come to an end. It looked as if the Panthers were going to slip to another defeat to the then reigning NFC Champions as Seattle surged into a 20-7 lead in the third quarter. But Newton led three touchdown drives to guide the Panthers to victory, the third capped by a perfect pass to wide open tight end Greg Olsen to silence a stunned home crowd.
Carolina survive Colts and Packers scares
Having followed up the dramatic win in Seattle with a relatively routine triumph over the Philadelphia Eagles, the Panthers survived two comeback attempts from the Indianapolis Colts and Green Bay Packers. Luke Kuechly picked off Andrew Luck to set up Graham Gano's game-winning field goal in a 29-26 defeat of the Colts, who had erased a 23-6 deficit. A Thomas Davis interception of reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers in the red zone sealed a 37-29 victory over the Packers after Green Bay had fought back from 37-14 down.
Offensive duels in New Orleans and New York
After three successive dominant wins, the Panthers became the ninth team in NFL history to start 12-0 with a thrilling 41-38 triumph in New Orleans. Carolina recovered superbly after the Saints went 14-0 ahead but were unable to put New Orleans away until late in the fourth quarter, Newton's fifth touchdown pass proving decisive as he outdueled Drew Brees in a 41-38 victory in a contest that featured 831 net yards of offense.
There was no such drama the following week, the Panthers crushing the Atlanta Falcons 38-0, but in Week 15 the Panthers' air of invincibility was put to the test by the New York Giants, who rallied from 35-14 down to tie the game at 35-35 as wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. got the better of Panthers star corner Josh Norman in a fiery encounter at MetLife Stadium. Newton was undeterred, though, and kept his composure to calmly lead the Panthers down the field and put them in position for Gano to hit the clinching three-pointer as time expired.
Falcons finish unbeaten run
The Panthers' hopes of going 16-0 came crashing down in the penultimate week of the season as the Falcons shut down Carolina's offense in a much deserved 20-13 success. After a Newton rushing touchdown in the first quarter, the Panthers were held without a six-pointer for the rest of the game. Instead Falcons wideout Julio Jones stole the show with a magnificent 70-yard touchdown grab from Matt Ryan that proved to be the game's pivotal play. Carolina easily beat Tampa Bay in Week 17, Newton finishing the regular season with 3837 yards passing and 45 total touchdowns.
Seahawks rally falls short
Carolina looked to be reaping the effects of the bye week in their NFC divisional round play-off meeting with the Seahawks, relying on the running game of Stewart and more strong play from the defence to shut down Russell Wilson and lead 31-0 at the break. The Panthers took their foot off the gas in the second half, however, and almost paid the price - Seattle scoring 24 unanswered points in a rally that came to an end when Davis recovered an onside kick to clinch progress into the NFC title game.
Panthers rout Cardinals to reach Super Bowl
The Panthers did not make the same mistake in the NFC Championship game, keeping their foot firmly on the throat of the Arizona Cardinals in a 49-15 rout. The Cardinals committed seven turnovers, with six conceded by quarterback Carson Palmer, and seemingly soon-to-be MVP Newton took full advantage by throwing for two touchdowns and running for another pair in an incredible performance that served encapsulation of the talent that has seen him become one of the game's elite.