The Panthers might have surprised some people with their 15-1 run, their ability to withstand comebacks, and particularly the way they stomped Arizona to earn a trip to Super Bowl 50.
But Panthers quarterback Cam Newton could smell this one cooking for a long time.
Newton has used all kinds of metaphors to describe their success this year, but came back to one of his favorites as Sunday night was bearing down on Monday morning, after a 49-15 demolition of the Cardinals sent them to the Super Bowl against the Broncos.
“This has been a process,” Newton said in the postgame podium portion of his interviews. “It wasn’t going to be instant grits. It was going to be like long, slow-cooked collard greens. I think those collard greens are brewing right now. You can smell them from 100 miles away.”
Newton made a similar grits and greens analogy right after the Panthers drafted him first overall in 2011, long before you could tell how they were going to turn out.
The physical gifts were clearly there, and he put up numbers his first two years that showed signs of what he could become.
But the leadership he has shown in propelling the Panthers to the Super Bowl is most reminiscent of his days at Auburn, when he led a team to a national title by what seemed like force of will. It certainly wasn’t the talent around him, as the only other offensive player drafted from that 2010 Auburn team to be drafted at all was seventh-round tackle Lee Ziemba.
So in a sense, what Newton is doing now with a receiving corps that includes Ted Ginn, Jerricho Cotchery, Philly Brown and rookie Devin Funchess shouldn’t be a surprise.
Neither should his 335 yards passing, with four touchdowns (including two rushing scores).
He’s been cooking this way for years, and he knew something special was simmering.
“I’ve thought of this moment way before this moment,” Newton said. “You play it out so many times in your head. It may be a surprise to some people, but it’s the way I envisioned it in the dream.”
And Sunday, again, he played that dream out in front of a large crowd, who watched him do amazing things.