SUPER BOWL: Little-known receivers help Panthers get to Super Bowl

The Associated Press
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Carolina Panthers wide receiver Corey Brown makes a catch during practice in preparation for the Super Bowl 50 football game Thursday Feb. 4, 2016 in San Jose, Calif.

Cam Newton throws passes to a bunch of no-name receivers.

The Carolina Panthers have a group of wideouts who've embraced their roles, checked their egos and do whatever it takes to win.

“We know we suck,” Corey (Philly) Brown said sarcastically. “We're just going to continue to make plays and do what we've been doing all year.”

Brown, Jerricho Cotchery, Ted Ginn Jr. and Devin Funchess don't have impressive resumes that compare to Denver's Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. Thomas is a three-time Pro Bowl pick with four straight seasons of at least 1,300 yards receiving and two straight seasons with more than 100 catches. Sanders went to the Pro Bowl last year and has two straight seasons with 1,100-plus yards receiving and more than 75 catches.

Meanwhile, the Panthers rely on an undrafted free agent, a journeyman veteran, a first-round bust and a rookie.

“Those guys have been playing lights out since day one,” Newton said. “Ted Ginn, who was a bust for so many people. I heard Jerricho Cotchery was washed up 10 years ago. Philly Brown had no hands. Devin Funchess was too high of a pick for the Carolina Panthers. ... We didn't let anyone else dictate to us that we knew what we were capable of. It's a very close-knit group and guys selling out for each other.”

The Panthers had a No. 1 receiver, but Kelvin Benjamin tore his ACL in preseason. Without him, tight end Greg Olsen became Newton's go-to guy. Olsen had 77 catches for 1,104 yards.

None of the wide receivers even caught 50 balls.

Ginn led the unit with 44 catches for 739 yards and 10 TDs. He was the ninth overall pick by Miami in 2007 but never lived up to his potential and has bounced around the league.

“We're underrated,” Ginn said. “We got a lot of guys who can play on another team and be great.”

Brown, signed out of Ohio State in 2014, had 31 catches for 447 yards and four TDs this season.

“We don't care what people have to say about us and we don't listen to any of that,” he said.

Cotchery had 39 catches for 485 yards and three TDs in his 12th season in the NFL and second with the Panthers. He's more valuable to the team as a mentor to the younger players.

“We just grew extremely close,” he said. “Everything just came together for us.”

Funchess, a second-round pick, caught 31 passes for 473 yards and five TDs. He also had a TD catch against Arizona in the NFC championship game.

“When Kelvin went down, we had to step up,” Funchess said. “And we stepped up big since Week 1 and then we never looked back.”

Panthers receivers coach Ricky Proehl has been instrumental in his group's development. He's no stranger to the Big Game himself.

Proehl played for two Super Bowl championship teams - the 1999 Rams and 2006 Colts. He also played on two teams that lost the Super Bowl. Proehl caught a tying TD pass late in the fourth quarter for the Rams in 2002 and Panthers in 2004. But Adam Vinatieri kicked game-winning field goals for the Patriots to win both games.

“All that he brought as a player he brings to our meeting room,” Cotchery said. “That same competitiveness, wanting his group to be the best that they can be, working every day to perfect your craft. He's a guy that has a lot of wisdom about the game and he knows how to communicate that.”

Organizations: Carolina Panthers

Geographic location: Denver, Ohio State, Arizona

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