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Super Bowl 50 chess match: Peyton Manning vs. Carolina ‘D’

Josh Norman of the Carolina Panthers reacts

Josh Norman of the Carolina Panthers reacts after a play against the Seattle Seahawks in the third quarter during the NFC Divisional Playoff Game at Bank of America Stadium on Jan. 17, 2016 in Charlotte, N.C. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Streeter Lecka

Josh Norman has so much respect for Peyton Manning that he plans a little tribute to the quarterback during Super Bowl 50 . . . if he is able to come away with an interception.

How does he plan to celebrate any potential picks in the Feb. 7 game? “I’m probably going to bow to him,” the Panthers cornerback told reporters yesterday. “That’s how much I really think about the guy.”

Facing the Broncos in the Super Bowl gives many of the young Panthers defenders a chance to play against a living legend. Manning, 39, the oldest quarterback to start a Super Bowl game, was on his way to breaking NFL records when many of the Panthers were in high school or even younger.

“You spend your life watching him, Peyton Manning, so it’s going to be cool,” linebacker Luke Kuechly said.

“That’s PM, that’s P freaking M, the guy you’ve been idolizing,” Norman said. “I’ve played the Colts on the game system . . . This is the guy we’re facing, man.”

Although there may be some stargazing and bowing, the Panthers are trying to focus not on meeting Manning but on beating Manning. All-Pro middle linebacker Kuechly will match wits with a quarterback who is the Ace of Audibles, the Maestro of Motions. His physical skills may be somewhat diminished, but his mental skills still are on point.

“He’s still Peyton,” Kuechly said. “He’s still up there. He’s still got all the hand signals, all the code words. He’s adjusting everything, getting everybody lined up. He’s still Peyton, I don’t care what anybody says.”

Not all of the players have experience facing Manning, but coach Ron Rivera does. He was the defensive coordinator for the Bears when they lost to Manning and the Colts in Super Bowl XLI.

“You see the same guy,” Rivera said. “He’s going to know you, and he’s going to understand how to attack you. He’s a very smart, bright football player. He wants to undress the defense as quick as possible and get a feel for where they’re going. It’s really a great chess match. It’s quarterback against defense.”

The biggest issue the Panthers will have is trying to figure out which of Manning’s gyrations and shouts are real and which are dummy calls. For almost two decades, that has been one of the biggest mysteries in the NFL.

Said Rivera, “I told him one time, ‘I hope you write a book and tell us all the truth.’ ”

Until then, there is no Rosetta Stone for translating Manning. The Panthers will have some of their own tricks, of course. But they won’t rely on too many of them.

“There isn’t a lot of back-and-forth because you don’t know what he’s checking or what he’s doing,” Kuechly said. “Maybe he’s checking nothing. With him, you think you’re on to something and then you find something that discredits it. Maybe one time he’s saying this word and I’ve seen it two or three times and it’s right, it’s right, it’s right — then the fourth time it’s wrong. Well, that’s done now.

“At the end of the day, you just have to play.”

And, the Panthers hope, get a chance to bow once or twice.

Davis ready to go. Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis, who fractured his arm in Sunday’s NFC title game against the Cardinals, told reporters he had a metal plate attached to his forearm with “11 or 12” screws during surgery on Monday and will wear a Kevlar brace to protect the area in Super Bowl 50. Davis said he has no fear of reinjuring himself.

“If I had concerns about hitting somebody or getting hit, I wouldn’t even take the field,” he said. “It’s not even going to be something I think about one bit. I’m going to go out there and play the game like I’ve always played it: fast, hard and aggressive. That’s the mindset. That’s what I have to do.”

Davis has yet to practice this week. Rookie Shaq Thompson likely will start if Davis is unable to play, but he insists he will.

“Man, even bigger than me having this opportunity, I want to go out and play for my team because I know I can help the team,” Davis said. “That’s what it’s all about.”


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