The San Francisco 49ers go into Carolina and dominate the Panthers en route to their third straight NFC Championship game, 23-10. The Panthers jumped out to an impressive 10-6 lead early in the second quarter and their defense was holding the 49ers down for a while in the first half, but eventually their offense woke up and Carolina could not hold them back any longer and they just steamrolled their way to the “W”.
San Fran seemed to gain control of the game right at the end of the first half when they scored a touchdown with five seconds remaining. They ran 12 plays and went 80 yards in 3:36 at the end of the second quarter and did not look back from that point on. Colin Kaepernick was able to hook up with Vernon Davis for the toe-dragging touchdown (on the one yard line). As it turned out, this was Davis’s only catch of the game, and it gave the Niners a 13-10 lead at the time. The offense then found its bearings in the second half and the 49ers ended up scoring another touchdown and pulling out to a 20-10 lead. From that point forward the team did not look back and the defense shut the Panthers down.
The Carolina offense was not all that bad in this game, but it was ineffective at times that were most inopportune. For instance, they stalled twice inside of the five yard line. The 49ers defense stood up and held the Panthers out of the end zone on seven goal-to-goal plays. Ron Rivera opted to go for it on fourth down on the first play of the second quarter (from the one yard line). Ahmad Brooks crushed ruined that play when he penetrated into the backfield and stuffed Mike Tolbert for no gain. The Niners did go three and out and Cam Newton found Steve Smith for a beautiful 31 yard touchdown on the ensuing drive, but that didn’t change the fact that they could not slam it in from the one yard line the series before. They were barred from the end zone on their next drive as well when Frisco stopped them from scoring at the one yard line again. The cats had to settle for a field goal after possessing the ball for 8:59. In the third quarter there was a drive where the Panthers held the ball for 8:20 and did not score anything. Cam Newton was sacked on consecutive plays and the team fell out of field goal range. As coach Brian Billick would say, drives were you hold the ball that long and don’t score are kind of like empty calories on a diet. They don’t do you any good and really only hurt you in the long run. If you include the drive where Carolina was stopped on fourth down at the one yard line, the team wasted a combined 21:59 to score only three points. That is the biggest reason why they fell by 13 points. They simply struggled to capitalize on their time-consuming drives, unlike the 49ers did.
San Francisco’s defense did a good job in the second half getting pressure on Cam Newton. They rarely allowed him to escape outside of the pocket and when they did the secondary did a nice job chasing him down. His long run on the afternoon was 11 yards and he carried it 10 times. The major impact player on the 49ers in this game was Anquan Boldin. He made eight catches for 136 yards. Last week, Michael Crabtree seemed to be the go-to guy for Colin Kapernick and this week it was definitely the former Cardinal and Raven. This bodes well for San Fran down the stretch; the fact that Kap can find different go-to receivers on any given Sunday in different situations. It is going to be tough for teams to cover the trio of Vernon Davis, Anquan Boldin, and Michael Crabtree down the road. Luke Kuechly did a good job blanketing Davis in this game, but later on in the playoffs (like next week against the Seahawks) it is possible that Vernon has a nice game while Boldin and Crabtree are covered. Simply put, it is looking like the Niners have too many weapons for one team to cover. When you couple that with the mobility of Kap, the strong running game, and solid defense you have a team that looks primed for a Super Bowl victory, in my opinion.
So the moral of the story for the Panthers is this: don’t waste scoring opportunities. That near 22 minutes that ran off the clock all turned out to be wasted time for a team that needed every opportunity they could get to score against a stingy defense. This was a game of missed opportunities for the black cats and the 49ers are too good of a team for you to hope to beat while scoring only 10 points. Obviously they were able to win against them earlier this year while scoring only 10, but that was in a game when the 49ers didn’t have Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis in the second half. With all of the weapons in place, San Fran dominated this game. They won it in typical 49er fashion and they are easily the hottest team going into Championship Sunday.