Panthers report card

January 12, 2014 

Reporter Joseph Person grades the Carolina Panthers’ performance against the 49ers.

C+ QUARTERBACK : In his playoff debut, Cam Newton completed 16 of 25 passes for 267 yards and a touchdown, and led the Panthers in rushing with 54 yards on 10 carries. But Newton threw two interceptions and held the ball too long in the pocket a couple of times.

D RUNNING BACKS : With Jonathan Stewart inactive, DeAngelo Williams and Mike Tolbert never got going. They averaged 2.5 yards per carry, and their longest run was seven yards by Williams. Tolbert had three carries near the goal line that netted just 2 yards.

C+ RECEIVERS : Steve Smith, who was questionable with a sprained knee, looked like the picture of health with four catches for 74 yards and a touchdown in the first half. But when the 49ers rolled a safety toward Smith, none of the other receivers stepped up.

D OFFENSIVE LINE : The line allowed Newton to get sacked five times, and failed to generate any movement on the goal line runs. The guards in particular had trouble near the goal line, creating no space for Newton and Tolbert to run.

D DEFENSIVE LINE : Greg Hardy, who had eight sacks in the final three regular-season games, had none Sunday. The 49ers turned their protection toward Hardy, meaning he often had to beat more than one blocker. It wasn’t just Hardy: No defensive lineman had a sack.

B LINEBACKERS : Middle linebacker Luke Kuechly and outside backer Thomas Davis combined for 18 tackles. Kuechly had the Panthers’ only sack, dropping Colin Kaepernick on a blitz during the 49ers’ first series. Outside linebacker Chase Blackburn added six stops.

F DEFENSIVE BACKS : Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said he tries to set a physical tone early in the game. But the personal fouls by Munnerlyn (for a head butt) and safety Mike Mitchell (unnecessary roughness) on San Francisco’s first two series helped set up field goals and set the wrong tone. Rookie safety Robert Lester was in the wrong coverage on Anquan Boldin’s 45-yard catch that set up a touchdown.

B SPECIAL TEAMS : Ted Ginn Jr.’s 24-yard punt return set up Newton’s touchdown pass to Smith on the ensuing play. Graham Gano made a short field goal and had touchbacks on all three of his kickoffs. Brad Nortman averaged 42 yards over two punts, with a long of 51.

C COACHING : Offensive coordinator Mike Shula tried a few different things at the goal line, but none of them worked. It didn’t look like Shula had a counter-punch when the 49ers started to pay more attention to Smith in the second half.

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