SANTA CLARA, Calif. — San Francisco 49ers running back Frank Gore has a long memory. That game in November – the one where the Carolina Panthers held the 49ers to nine points – still stings.
“They came in our house and took it from us,” Gore said of the Panthers’ 10-9 victory. “Now it’s a playoff game, so we want to go to the next level. (These are) both physical teams. We’re going to be ready for a test Sunday. Get the job done.”
That game was one of only three times this season the 49ers failed to score in double figures. They were awful offensively that day, totaling 151 total yards and converting two of 13 third-down opportunities.
Now they have to go to Charlotte for Sunday’s 1:05 p.m. playoff game after edging the Green Bay Packers on the road 23-20 last weekend. They say they’ve learned plenty since that loss against the Panthers Nov. 10, and their seven-game winning streak suggests as much.
“Obviously too many sacks in that game,” said offensive tackle Joe Staley, who had primary responsibility for blocking Panthers star defensive end Greg Hardy. “I think we’ve gotten a lot of those issues ironed out up-front. They’re a very talented defensive front. Each has a unique strength and they’re good at playing to those strengths.
“It was a weird game. Couldn’t convert on third downs. Lot to improve on.”
Specifically, the Panthers sacked quarterback Colin Kaepernick six times, accounting for 45 lost yards. Even when Kaepernick did complete passes, they went nowhere – he averaged 4.1 yards per completion.
And as dangerous as Kaepernick can be as a runner, his four carries amounted to 16 yards.
So, yeah, the 49ers had plenty to review this week from that game tape.
“It was tough. They’ve got a good defense,” said Gore. “We watched the film, and made a lot of mistakes.”
“Missing blocks, a lot of things we didn’t pick up. If we had done what our coaches said, there would have been some big plays,” Gore said.
Asked Wednesday if that November result was more about the Panthers’ defense or his performance, Kaepernick said, “It was me.”
“They have a great front seven: They’re very fast, very athletic, very strong,” Kaepernick added. “(But) it was something that the first game we didn’t play very well. We didn’t execute the way we should have.”
Staley said that front seven is a rare mix of pure talent and sophisticated scheme.
“They mix it up, do a good job of running stunts,” Staley said. “They’re also real talented one-on-one. (Hardy is a) big, athletic guy. Real slippery. Charles Johnson has a real good bull rush. And those two guys inside have moves, which you don’t hear a lot from defensive tackles.”
So, yes, the 49ers feel they can learn from that awful day at Candlestick. But Staley cautioned that in the NFL, what you saw from a team eight weeks ago might not be much like what you’ll see Sunday:
“You can draw from experiences playing against certain people. But we’re going to do different things and they’re going to do different things. Each game is its own individual game.”
Rick Bonnell: (704) 358-5129; Twitter: @rick_bonnell