The 49ers took the field on Sunday with the look of a team still stewing over a tough defeat during the regular season; a game where the Panthers took advantage of some of the 49ers weaknesses and kind of embarrassed them on their home field. Colin Kaepernick said following the win in Green Bay that "...we owe them one..." and exacted their revenge with efficiency. The 49ers played this game looking pissed off, and nothing exemplified this more than Anquan Boldin, who continually beat the Panthers defense for clutch receptions, punctuated by emphatic screaming at whatever Carolina defender was in earshot. It might have bordered on the edge of classlessness, but it had its desired effect; Boldin, among others, was able to incite Carolina's defense into multiple personal foul penalties that helped to extend 49er drives. The 49ers played with a controlled anger, perhaps the truest sign of a veteran team that knows its capabilities and the task at hand, taking advantage of an amped-up Panthers team, the majority of which was playing in their first Postseason game.
Quinton Patton for a big 3rd down conversion and Frank Gore for another before Boldin rooked Mike Mitchell into an unnecessary roughness penalty, but ultimately, the drive stalled and ended in a Phil Dawson Field Goal. The 49ers got the ball back quickly, though. After Cam Newton strutted out with a pair of completions, his 3rd pass bounced off the hands of Brandon LaFell and into the arms of a diving Patrick Willis, giving the 49ers possession in Carolina territory. This drive, the 49ers managed to gain more yardage thanks to Carolina penalties than actual offense, and again ended up with a Dawson Field Goal to go up 6-0.
Steve Smith and a few of his own runs. The Panthers ended up with a first down inside the 49ers 10 yard line, but runs by Mike Tolbert and a sneak attempt by Newton landed the ball at the 1 yard line. The Panthers, behind coach Ron Rivera, seemed to have made a name for themselves this season by going for it on 4th down, rather than taking the points, and succeeding. So, naturally, the Panthers went for it on 4th and 1. But Newton's attempted sneak was jammed at the line of scrimmage by Ahmad Brooks, and the 49ers turned away the Panthers without a score. But this indirectly led to a Panther score, as the 49ers, backed up against their own goal line, could only advance a few yards before having to Punt, and Andy Lee's fine effort was negated with Ted Ginn, Jr returned the kick to the 49ers 31-yard line, and one play later, Newton threw a strike to Smith for a Touchdown, instantly giving the Panthers the lead.
In need of a response, the 49ers only managed to move the ball to their own 40 yard line before punting it back to the Panthers, and Newton again shot the Panthers down the field with a quickness. He hit Greg Olsen for a 35-yard gain and Smith for another 10 before scrambling down to the 1 yard line, putting the Panthers right at the door again and on the precipice of opening up some distance between them and a 49ers team that seemed untracked offensively. But, again, the defense of the 49ers rose up and smacked the Panthers in the mouth, stopping Tolbert twice and registering a sack on Newton before Rivera decided this time to cut his losses and take the points, letting Graham Gano kick the Field Goal. This crucial decision gave the Panthers a 10-6 lead and would be the last points Carolina would score in the game.
Michael Crabtree, who made a leaping grab in traffic for a 20-yard game that justified the lofty praise placed on him by his coach earlier in the week. Another quick strike to Boldin picked up even more yards and even more smack talk, as Boldin got upended by Mitchell and then immediately jumped up and got in Mitchell's face. Three plays later, the spotlight was on Boldin again, as he drew a key Pass Interference penalty on Drayton Florence. Kaepernick had attempted a fade route to the front corner of the End Zone, but Florence basically ran Boldin out of bounds rather than paying attention to the call. This set up Vernon Davis' tightrope Touchdown with 5 seconds left in the half, a beauty of a catch that was initially ruled incomplete and Davis out of bounds, in spite of the fact that Davis left some pretty obvious cleat marks in the End Zone. Jim Harbaugh threw one of his patented apoplectic shit fits, to the point where Boldin had to race over to calm him down, but replays confirmed Davis made a good catch and the 49ers went into the half leading 13-10, coming off a Touchdown drive, something they weren't able to do in Week 10.
a 45-yard gain on a reception that saw him basically run right past Captain Munnerlyn for the reception, placing the 49ers inside the Panthers 5 yard line. Two plays later, they were in the end zone, courtesy of Kaepernick, who broke out the read option, ran left and was left with a clean path to the end zone when Florence completely overran him. This opened up a 10-point lead for the 49ers, which Kaepernick spread a little extra mustard on by mocking Newton's "Superman" Touchdown pose, before quickly "buttoning up" his shirt and performing this Postseason's first Kaepernicking.
Navorro Bowman, taking the Panthers out of Field Goal range and forcing them to punt back to the 49ers.
39-yard gain that aided in the setup for an icing Dawson Field Goal to make the score 23-10, after a drive that ate up about half the clock in the 4th Quarter while Newton stood on the sideline with a big ol' Shaun Marcum-esque puss on his face. By time the Panthers got the ball back, they were in near-impossible circumstances, and while Newton managed to matriculate them down the field, he did so with little to no sense of urgency and with 4:34 to go in the game, he sailed a pass in the vague direction of Greg Olsen that was promptly intercepted by Donte Whitner that for all intents and purposes sealed the game up. I personally do not like to act presumptuous and assume victory in situations like this, but Newton's pass was airmailed so badly and the body language of the Panthers by this point looked so defeated that with 4+ minutes remaining, I was already sending out "Seattle, here we come" text messages. And why not? The Panthers committed one more unconscionable Personal Foul penalty as their frustration bubbled over and the 49ers basically were able to run out the consequential remaining time and seal a date with the Seattle Seahawks in next Sunday's NFC Championship game.
This mental toughness is something Jim Harbaugh has talked about for several weeks now, and now it's going to need to come out in the highest order as the 49ers will be traveling to a place that's been a bit of a house of horrors for them of late in Seattle's