Anquan Boldin

49ers shut out Panthers in second half, set up the NFC Championship we all knew was coming

Colin Kaepernick superman

The game that has seemed inevitable since both teams traded offseason headlines back in the spring of 2013 is on its way. The San Francisco 49ers will travel to The Damp Dungeon of Din™ in a week to face the team everybody loves to hate.

The Seattle Seahawks jumped out to an early lead they clung to like Linus and a certain blanket. The 49ers beat their NFC South opponent in a different way. After a scary start where Charles Johnson stuffed Frank Gore and then limped off the field, the 49ers regrouped and started off with something that looked pretty familiar, two field goals. After that they made Cam Newton look like one of the best quarterbacks in football for a spell, then San Francisco’s defense negated Carolina’s run game and made themselves at home in the Panthers’ backfield in the second half of their 23-10 win.

The only reason to believe the Panthers might win this game was their defense, and that unit played well. In fact, both teams were almost completely equal in terms of total yards (Panthers 325, 49ers 315) and time of possession (Panthers 30:05, 49ers 29:55). But for a 49ers squad that has been criticized for their field goal frequency, two touchdown drives and no points allowed after the last 33:41 made a game that was a little too close for comfort in the first half seem almost relaxing in the final quarter.

The Panthers were the inferior team, and they knew it. Steve Smith was running like old-timey footage of Babe Ruth after his touchdown catch on a phenomenal throw from Newton, who didn’t do much else the rest of the way. Carolina couldn’t run at all, and barely even tried — their lead back, DeAngelo Williams, only had five carries. So the Panthers resorted to a lot of funny business, and the officials were paying attention this time (unlike last week, when the 49ers and Packers probably would’ve been allowed to stab each other if they kept the bloodletting to a minimum).

The 49ers knew they could stop the Panthers’ offense after allowing only 10 points (seven of them after the 49ers turned the ball over and NaVorro Bowman dropped an interception a few plays later) without Aldon Smith in Week 10. Aldon had a decent game, but Ahmad Brooks was the outside linebacker who really stood out. Brooks squashed Newton on 4th-and-goal in — if I’m not mistaken — the first postseason goal line stand for the 49ers since Super Bowl XVI. Brooks also had 2.5 sacks.

And how about the inside linebackers? Patrick Willis had the interception that cut the Panthers’ first drive short. With a 20-10 lead near the end of the third quarter, NaVorro Bowman put a wicked spin move on Mike Tolbert that led to a huge sack on a play that started at the 49ers’ 29-yard-line. Brooks followed with a sack on the next play to knock the Panthers back to the 49ers’ 45, and the Panthers were forced to punt.

That sequence was followed by a 13-play, 73-yard drive that took 7:58 to complete. The 49ers smartly got conservative at the end to avoid a turnover (Colin Kaepernick narrowly avoided a catastrophic pick-6 for the second consecutive week on a pass from out of the end zone, so there was no point in getting cute) at the end of that drive, but after Phil “The Thrill” Dawson’s third field goal of the afternoon the Panthers were done.

Frank Gore had 82 yards on 16 carries the last time these teams faced. Today he had 84 yards on 17 carries, but 67 of those yards came in the second half. Michael Crabtree landed on his head early in the game and never really seemed right, but Anquan Boldin came through with eight catches for 136 yards. But the main takeaway was this: the 49ers were outmuscled at home when Carolina beat them 10-9 in Week 10, and the exact opposite occurred today.

A few more notes before we go guano-crazy on 49ers vs. Seahawks analysis/hatred

— Quinton Patton caught a 23-yard pass on 3rd-and-10 on the 49ers’ third offensive play, he laid a great block on Colin Kaepernick’s rushing touchdown, and he drove the Panthers crazy. He seems real friendly whenever I see him in the locker room (he even passed out gummy worms to his teammates after the Falcons game), but it seemed like every few plays we saw some Carolina DB trying to take a swing at him. Really smart personal foul by Josh Thomas after a two-yard run on 3rd-and-10, by the way.

— Some jerkoff reporter complained about Kaepernick wearing his hat backwards after the game during a televised interview, and others complained about him “mocking” Newton with his Superman gesture after the TD, as if Newton is ACTUALLY Superman.

Hey everyone: shut up. Kaepernick hasn’t said one inflammatory thing in his life, so this is all about looks. He isn’t Drew Brees. He never will be. And the 49ers aren’t complaining one bit.

— Vernon Davis unlocked everything when he kept his feet inbounds. Unbelievable play when the 49ers needed it most.

Here are a few GIFs of Jim Harbaugh twirling, for the Justin Bieber and Michael Jackson fans out there.

— The 49ers lost Will Tukuafu early to a knee injury, but Anthony Dixon (upon first glance) appeared to do a fine job as 49ers fullback. This team knows how to coach blocking.

— If Kaepernick becomes good/important/famous enough to have his own silhouette, there’s no other choice but to show him running to his left while carrying the ball with his left arm.

— Dan Skuta was unbelievable today, and got completely screwed on that roughing the passer penalty. HOWEVER, the 49ers got a few great breaks on penalties (especially the missed “12 men in the huddle” penalty they should’ve been called for in the red zone) and Newton was intercepted two plays after Skuta’s penalty, so …

— If Ginn slipped on a banana peel and broke a bone before the game, the 49ers would’ve won by at least 21 points. For anyone who watched the 49ers on a full-time basis over the last few years, that is so, so weird.

— We finally got the answer to the “Will they ever try a quarterback sneak?” question. Same with “If you love throwing to Staley so much, how about having someone else throw a pass?” Boldin was trying to throw that ball away, but the way that thing fluttered and bounced just out of bounds was a little scary.

— You ever notice how when Boldin talks trash, the other guy always seems to back up just a little bit?

— Kaepernick was sacked once. Newton was sacked five times. The “sack” stat is a little overrated, but today it was told the story as well as one number possibly could.

— Looking for GIFs from this game? They’re coming soon, I swear.

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