Panthers vs. 49ers: Five plays that mattered

January 12, 2014 

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Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith (89) catches a touchdown pass from Cam Newton as San Francisco 49ers cornerback Tarell Brown applies defensive pressure in the second quarter on Sunday.

JEFF SINER — jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

1. Mitchell’s late hit

The score: Scoreless, 10:40 left first quarter.

The situation: San Francisco ball, third and 6 at the Panthers’ 40.

The play: After an incomplete pass intended for Anquan Boldin that would have forced a punt, Panthers safety Mike Mitchell was flagged for a late hit on the deep receiver, tight end Vernon Davis, who was not the intended target.

Why it mattered: The 15-yard penalty kept the drive alive, and the 49ers completed a 13-play drive with a 49-yard Phil Dawson field goal, giving the 49ers a 3-0 lead.

2. Smith’s TD catch

The score: San Francisco 6, Carolina 0, 13:47 to play second quarter.

The situation: Panthers ball, first and 10 at the San Francisco 31.

The play: Cam Newton found Steve Smith with a perfect pass against tight coverage down the left sideline for a 31-yard touchdown.

Why it mattered: The play was vintage Smith – straight down the sideline, late grab for the touchdown catch. Smith’s knee had made him questionable all week. The Panthers had the lead 7-6.

3. Crabtree’s grab

The score: Carolina 10, San Francisco 6, 1:51 to play first half.

The situation: Niners ball, second and 10 at the Carolina 49.

The play: With defensive end Greg Hardy bearing down on him, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick found Michael Crabtree, who made a leaping reception good for 20 yards against the coverage of Melvin White.

Why it mattered: The Panthers had frustrated Kaepernick for the better part of six quarters before the final drive of the second quarter. He went 5-of-9 for 62 yards on the drive, which ended in a 49ers touchdown on a 1-yard pass to tight end Vernon Davis. It took a replay overturn to confirm, but the 49ers took a 13-10 lead to halftime.

4. Kaepernick to Boldin

The score: San Francisco 13, Carolina 10, 10:18 to play in the third.

The situation: San Francisco ball, first and 10 at the Carolina 47.

The play: The Carolina pressure can’t get to Kaepernick, who found Boldin over the top for a 45-yard gain to the 2. Captain Munnerlyn was expecting safety help from Robert Lester on the play and chased down Boldin.

Why it mattered: Two plays later, Kaepernick scored on a 2-yard keeper around left end and celebrated with Newton’s Superman pose. The play gave the 49ers a 20-10 lead.

5. Back-to-back sacks

The score: San Francisco 20, Carolina 10, 1:58 to play in the third.

The situation: Second and 10 at the San Francisco 29.

The plays: With the Panthers in field goal range, Newton is sacked for 8-yard losses on back-to-back plays, by 49ers linebackers NaVorro Bowman and Ahmad Brooks, forcing a punt.

Why it mattered: The Panthers needed points on that drive to make it a one-score game, but the sacks prevented it. After Carolina’s punt, the 49ers drove 73 yards in 13 plays, scoring on a 34-yard field goal by Dawson that made it 23-10 with 7:35 to go.

Michael Persinger

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