Panthers eliminated by 49ers
Cam Newton threw two interceptions and was sacked five times in his playoff debut as the Carolina Panthers saw their season end the same way it did in 2009, with a home loss in the NFC Divisional round.
"Terrible ending to a great season," Newton said.
The Panthers were eliminated from this year's postseason after a 23-10 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. In the 2008-09 season, Carolina won the NFC South and earned a first-round bye before losing to the Arizona Cardinals 33-13 in the second round.
The 49ers took a 6-0 lead in the first quarter on two field goals by Phil Dawson, both of which were set up by personal foul penalties against the Panthers.
On San Francisco's opening drive, Colin Kaepernick threw an incomplete pass intended for Anquan Boldin on third and six. However, Mike Mitchell was called for unsportsmanlike conduct and the 15-yard penalty gave the 49ers a first down at the Carolina 25.
On the 49ers' next possession, Captain Munnerlyn received an unnecessary roughness penalty for head butting. This gave San Francisco a first down at the Carolina 20, setting up Dawson's second field goal of the game.
The Panthers finally responded early in the second quarter when Newton hit Steve Smith from 31 yards out to give Carolina a 7-6 lead. Graham Gano added a field goal on Carolina's next possession to increase the lead to 10-6.
The 49ers took the lead just before the half on a touchdown pass from Kaepernick to Vernon Davis. Davis was originally ruled out of bounds, but the play was reviewed and the replay showed that Davis dragged his left toe inbounds prior to stepping out. Two plays prior, Drayton Florence was called for defensive pass interference on Boldin to put the ball on the one.
“I think there were some things that happened in the first half that really bothered me,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “We lost our composure a couple times and they got inside our head.”
The second half was all San Francisco. The 49ers scored on their opening possession of the second half when Kaepernick ran it in from four yards out. The touchdown was previously set up by a 45-yard pass from Kaepernick to Boldin. Boldin finished the day with 136 yards on eight receptions.
The 49ers extended their lead to 23-10 on Dawson's third field goal of the day. It was the third straight possession that San Francisco scored on.
"We started slow but we picked it up," wide receiver Michael Crabtree said. "A lot of guys made plays, whether it was one or two plays. Anquan Boldin came through and made a lot of big plays. You need someone to make big plays. You never know, next week might be Vernon (Davis) or (Quinton) Patton. That's the luxury of having all these guys on the team."
Next week, San Francisco will play in its third straight NFC championship game when it travels to Seattle to take on the Seahawks.
"I think we're a lot better," Davis said comparing the 49ers now to the last time they went to Seattle. "We didn't have Michael Crabtree then. He just adds value to the team. Needless to say, he's a true play maker and we're just grateful to have him. It will be different this time. I can assure you that."