January 20, 2004  
Volume 97, Issue 60  

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Panthers keep winning...

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — This Manning was busy grabbing interceptions instead of throwing them.

Ricky Manning Jr. picked off three passes by Donovan McNabb and helped put the Carolina Panthers in their first Super Bowl with a 14-3 win over the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC championship game Sunday night.

Earlier in the day, NFL co-MVP Peyton Manning was intercepted four times in Indianapolis’ loss to New England in the AFC title game.

Manning Jr. became an unlikely hero by reading McNabb’s passes just a little better than the Eagles’ receivers. His three interceptions came in a span of 9:39 in the second and third quarters — the first two in Panthers’ territory, and the third at the Philadelphia 37 to set up the clinching touchdown.

“I was hoping to get at least one,” Manning Jr. said. “I came out there expecting to win. We attacked all day. Left side, right side. We just kept attacking their receivers.”

In matching an NFC title game record for interceptions, Manning Jr. outdid his effort in last week’s double overtime win at St. Louis. In that game, his interception set the stage for Jake Delhomme’s game-winning 69-yard TD pass to Steve Smith.

After gaining a starting spot only late in the regular season, the 5’8”, 185-pound rookie from the University of California Los Angeles said earlier this week he wasn’t impressed with the Eagles’ receivers. He proved his point by being in the right place at the right time.

With the Panthers clinging to a 7-3 lead and the Eagles driving, a bruised McNabb hit James Thrash with a pass, but the ball was jarred loose and Manning grabbed it and raced 17 yards to the Philadelphia 37.

Five plays later, DeShaun Foster broke four tackles for a one-yard touchdown run with 4:11 left in the third quarter. The Panthers led 14-3 and were headed to the Super Bowl just two seasons after going 1-15.

The Panthers play the Patriots at the Super Bowl in Houston on Feb. 1.

Manning Jr., a third-round draft pick, couldn’t earn a starting spot at first in what was considered a weak secondary. But he moved in as left cornerback for Terry Cousin.



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