49ers end Panthers season in Divisional Playoffs
The Carolina Panthers returned to the NFL playoffs for the first time in five years, but their stay was short-lived.
The Panthers lost at home to the San Francisco 49ers, 23-10 on Sunday. San Francisco advances to the NFC Championship game at Seattle, while Carolina’s season came to an end.
Playing against last season’s NFC champion, the Panthers’ playoff inexperience showed. Carolina was flagged for eight penalties, costing a total of 73 yards. That included three personal foul penalties, including two on third down which extended San Francisco drives.
Cornerback Drayton Florence was also flagged for a pass interference penalty on third down in the end zone, leading to the go-ahead San Francisco touchdown just before the half.
“They were going to settle for a field goal to make it 9-10, with us leading going into halftime,” quarterback Cam Newton said. “But we knew 10 pts wasn’t going to be enough to win...When you’ve got a team on third down, you can’t give them another three tries to hurt you.”
“Our defense played well for the most part, but we made a lot of dumb mental errors and got those penalties that really killed us,” defensive tackle Star Lotulelei said.
The offense also contributed to the loss with breakdowns on two goal-line drives. The Panthers had first and goal from the six-yard line near the end of the first quarter and advanced to the one-yard line. Mike Tolbert was stopped on third down, and Cam Newton’s quarterback sneak couldn’t cross the goal line on fourth.
“When I don’t get it done, I wear my emotions on my sleeves,” Newton said. “I take it even harder when I call the play, and it doesn’t work out. I told coach I felt I could get into the end zone with a quarterback sneak. I put pressure on him, and he put it in my hands to call it. It didn’t work out the way I planned. I felt I failed him.”
Later in the first half, Newton and Tolbert were again stopped on runs from the one-yard line, leading to a Carolina field goal.
“It boils down to two pretty obvious things: Goal line offense and penalties,” tight end Greg Olsen said. “You do the math on those, and the score looks a lot different. We had two third-and-a-foots and got a total of three points.”
“Only guessing, but I think we’d have probably won the game if we’d gotten those,” left tackle Jordan Gross said.
The Panthers also pointed to the first drive of the second half as a turning point in the game. After falling behind 13-10 just before the half, Carolina got the ball to start the third quarter, but they were only able to move six yards.
“One thing we knew couldn’t happen is quick series’,” Newton said. “The three and out hurt us. We’re a better offense than that. We know that.”
“We won the toss and deferred,” Gross said. “You do that so you can go out after the half, go on a drive, score and set the tone. We went three and out, and that did not help us.”
After the Panthers punted to start the third quarter, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick led a scoring drive, running the ball in from the four-yard line to give San Francisco a 10-point lead.
Kaepernick finished 15 of 28 for 196 yards and one touchdown, to Vernon Davis. Anquan Boldin led the Niners with eight catches for 136 yards.
Newton was 16 of 25 for 267 yards in his playoff debut with one touchdown, on a 31-yard pass to Steve Smith. Newton also rushed 10 times for 54 yards, but he also threw two interceptions. One led to a San Francisco field goal. The other came in the fourth quarter and allowed the 49ers to run more than four minutes off the clock, giving the Panthers the ball back with just 12 seconds remaining in the game.
Ted Ginn Jr. led the Panthers with four catches for 104 yards.
The 49ers advance to their third straight NFC Championship game, while the Panthers gained valuable playoff experience.
“It’s a bad ending to a great season,” Newton said. “Playoff football is a different speed than regular season. I learned that today. And you’ve got to seize the moment when the moment allows.”