Ricky Manning's 3 INTs end Philadelphia's story

Published: Monday, January 19, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 19, 2004 at 3:45 a.m.

PHILADELPHIA - Sorry, Eagles. Not this time, either. The surprising Carolina Panthers are Super Bowl-bound instead.

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Carolina cornerback Ricky Manning Jr. celebrates a second-quarter interception in Philadelphia.

The Associated Press

The Panthers once again showed no fear on the road, shocking Philadelphia 14-3 Sunday night and handing the Eagles their third straight NFC championship game defeat.

Rookie Ricky Manning Jr., a hero last week with an interception to set up the winning touchdown at St. Louis, picked off three passes against an ailing Donovan McNabb.

Eight days after ending the Rams' 14-game home winning streak in double overtime, the Panthers marched into Lincoln Financial Field and grabbed their first conference crown. They'd gotten this far in 1996, their second season, but lost to Green Bay. This time, they extended the angst-filled wait for a championship in Philadelphia and will head to Houston to meet the New England Patriots on Feb. 1.

``I'm going to try not to think about the Patriots tonight so I can at least get some sleep,'' quarterback Jake Delhomme said. ``I don't want to think about that defense just yet.''

For Philadelphia, it is now 20 full seasons without any kind of pro sports championship. The Eagles' last NFL title was in 1960, and they are the first team to host consecutive conference championships and lose both since game sites originally were determined by record in 1975.

Just two seasons back, the Panthers were the NFL's worst team with a 1-15 record. John Fox was hired as coach and engineered one of the most impressive turnarounds in league history.

Fox's opportunistic defense made the difference Sunday, led by a fierce pass rush and third-round draft pick Manning, who tied an NFC championship game record with his three pickoffs.

The Panthers hurt McNabb's ribs in the second quarter, then destroyed Philadelphia's chance for its first Super Bowl trip since 1981 with a powerful display in the third period.

By the final quarter, McNabb was out of the game and the Eagles were out of options.

With McNabb sidelined, Koy Detmer led the Eagles to the Carolina 11, but then forced a throw over the middle that Dan Morgan grabbed for the Panthers' fourth interception.

Overall, McNabb was just 10-for-22 for 100 yards. He could provide none of the heroics of last week, when he rallied the Eagles over Green Bay 20-17 in overtime. This decisive loss will erase the glory of ``fourth-and-26,'' the play that saved Philadelphia's season - for one week.

The Panthers' key offensive player, Stephen Davis, played regularly despite injuring his quadriceps last week. He had 76 yards on 19 carries, while Foster added 60 on 14.

Carolina barely needed Delhomme's passing and he was a mere 9-for-14 for 101 yards.

``The defense played lights out,'' Delhomme said.

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