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SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Panthers cornerback Josh Norman barked Thursday that he hadn't heard much about Broncos receiver Emmanuel Sanders this week. The attention has been on Norman's emergence as one of the NFL's top cornerbacks and how Broncos receiver Demaryius Thomas bounced back from an emotional season.

Sanders hopes the Panthers continue to forget about him Sunday.

The Broncos' diminutive receiver might have the best matchup of all. While Norman and Thomas are dueling away on one side of the field, Sanders likely will square off against Panthers' cornerback Robert McClain, a late-season pickup.

POLL:More Americans rooting for Broncos to win Super Bowl 50

The Super Bowl has a way of bringing out the unheralded heroes. The Broncos' offense is the least talked about side of the ball for both teams. Many think it's a weak point.

Don't think for a second every player on that unit isn't trying to bring his game to an elite level to prove that thought wrong. Sanders is a prime example.

"I want people to talk about me when they talk about who is the best wide receiver," said Sanders, who is 5-foot-11, 180 pounds. "The thing is, I am a No. 2 wide receiver over here. We got Demaryius Thomas, but still I am out here battling. I am still out here trying to prove that I am one of the best wide receivers."

At times, Sanders has been the Broncos' No. 1 receiver. He's been a dependable target for quarterback Peyton Manning when Thomas was struggling.


Sanders made a career-high 181 receiving yards in his homecoming game at Pittsburgh, where he played previously. But it was timely catches in the playoff rematch with the Steelers that might have been more important. Sanders had more than double the receiving yards (85) than any of the Broncos' receivers and was the main cog in setting up the team's crucial scores.

"He's a playmaker. He's going to make plays on the ball," McClain said about Sanders. "We have to make sure we know where he is on the field."

Sanders is the safety valve on the Broncos' offense. He finished second on the team with 76 receptions, 1,135 yards and six touchdowns despite missing nearly two full games.

"The way he runs his routes, you can see him. You can tell when he drops his hips and is going to break out. It doesn't happen with everybody," Manning said. "He is a tremendous competitor. He loves football. He loves working on his craft. I really enjoy playing with the guy."

Sanders has welcomed the "Robin" role to Thomas' "Batman" since joining the Broncos in 2014. Thomas and Sanders each eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards for the second consecutive season.

This week, Robin might have to pick up the bulk of the load while Batman is a busy with a worthy opponent.

Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (10) of the Broncos goes up over cornerback Malcolm Butler (21) of the Patriots for a catch in the first quarterof the AFC championship game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. (John Leyba, The Denver Post)

Sanders' battle will be with McClain, who is 5-foot-9. McClain was signed by Carolina in Week 15 after spending the majority of the season on the streets as a free agent. An abundance of injuries in the Panthers' cornerback group, including losing Charles Tillman and Bene Benwikere in December forced the NFC champions to scourge the waiver wire for answers.

They picked up McClain and Cortland Finnegan, another late season signing.

McClain has allowed 53.3 percent of passes thrown his way to be caught this season, according to Pro Football Focus.

They're both protected by the Panthers' heavy mixture of Cover 3 and Cover 4 zone defenses. Safeties Roman Harper and Kurt Coleman roam from sideline to sideline, hoping to rob unsuspecting quarterbacks who throw to receivers who appear open.

The Panthers forced Arizona into four interceptions during the NFC championship game with similar tactics.

Sanders doesn't have to be the star Sunday, but he will be ready to go. This is his second chance at a Super Bowl trophy. His first attempt, with the Steelers during his rookie season of 2010, ended early because of a foot injury. Pittsburgh lost 31-25.

The pressure to win won't get to him.

"This is a game, man," Sanders said. When I catch a pass I'm having fun. I am going to smile. I am going to dance like Cam (Newton) and I am going to enjoy the moment. I have been working my butt off since I was 12 years old for this opportunity, so I am going to make the most of it."

He's plays football like he's still the small kid from Bellville, Texas, with a dream to make a game he always loved become his career.

"I know the whole world is going to be watching," Sanders said. "Hopefully as a team we take advantage of it and we have the confetti falling on us."

Cameron Wolfe: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or @CameronWolfe

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