The San Francisco 49ers defeated the Carolina Panthers by a score of 23–10 in the NFC divisional playoff game at 1 of the Carolina Panthers in the third quarter of the NFC Divisional Playoff Game Sunday afternoon.
With both San Francisco and Carolina bringing great defenses, the game hinged on which of their big-name triple-threat quarterbacks, Colin Kaepernick or Cam Newton, had the best game.
The answer was indisputably Colin Kaepernick. The 49ers QB found the holes in the Panthers’ pass defense, then used a mix of passes, rushes, and keepers to keep the drive alive. Newton, on the other hand, suffered several sacks and ended his team’s hopes with an interception late in the fourth quarter.
“We had to get settled down,” Kaepernick told Fox-TV about the difference between the first and second half. “They came out and did some unorthodox things against us. We had to settle down and start making plays.”
The 49ers also had the edge on defense, getting to Cam Newton for five sacks (plus one nullified by a questionable penalty) and stopping the Panthers on important third downs to keep them from scoring. On paper Carolina had the better defense, but on the field on Sunday the 49ers made the stops when they had to.
San Francisco held Carolina to a three-and-out on the first series of the second half, then Kaepernick came out firing, hitting Anquan Boldin for 16 and then 45 yards to get to first-and-goal at the one. Kaepernick fumbled and recovered on the next play, losing two, then ran it in for another touchdown to go up 20-10.
Newton also came out throwing, then counting on his running backs convert on third-and-short, which they did. Despite having taken some heavy hits in the first half, Newton carried the ball himself when he had to.
After three third-down conversions, San Francisco finally stopped the Panthers. A sack brought up third and eighteen; another eight-yard sack forced a punt, giving SF the ball on its own 12, still leading by 10 with one quarter of football left to play.
Kaepernick also showed a willingness to scramble when his receivers were covered, and the 49ers showed they could also convert important third downs to keep the drive alive. Frank Gore ran for 39 yard on third-and-one to bring the 49ers into scoring range again.
Anquan Boldin was a huge factor—he was too big for the panthers to stuff on his release, too nimble for the defensive backs to cover completely, and too strong to be brought down easily once he had the ball.
Neither Boldin’s power nor Kaepernick’s scrambling could convert the fourth third down of the drive as the Panthers stiffened at their own nine-yard line and forced the 49ers to settle for another field goal.
Despite holding San Francisco to three, Carolina was in a pretty deep hole: down two touchdowns with less than eight minutes remaining. Both teams ran eight-minute drives in the half; San Francisco came up with three, while the Panthers came up empty. Newton needed to work twice as fast and be much more successful to extend the Panthers’ season.
Newton realized he needed to throw the ball to catch up, but after two sacks he threw only his third interception of the year (first on the post-season,) giving the ball back to San Francisco with four minutes remaining.
To put the final nail in the Carolina coffin, Panthers cornerback Josh Thomas took a swing at a 49ers player, earning his team a 15-yard penalty and giving the 49ers a first down after a third-and-ten after the Panthers stopped Kendall Hunter after two yards.
The 49ers will face the Seattle Seahawks, with the league’s top-rated defense, next Sunday evening.