If you’re looking for the place where the Carolina Panthers’ playoff run went to die, start at the 1-yard line – San Francisco’s 1.
The Panthers’ goal-line struggles played a big part in their 23-10 loss to the 49ers on Sunday in a divisional-round game at Bank of America Stadium.
During two first-and-goal series in the first half, the Panthers ran four plays from the 1 – and failed to gain a yard. Three went for no gain and another lost a yard.
The first goal-line failure wasn’t as costly. After forcing a quick three-and-out, the Panthers took over at the San Francisco 31 after a long punt return by Ted Ginn Jr. and scored on the next play.
Steve Smith’s 31-yard touchdown catch from Cam Newton put the Panthers up 7-6, and they could have made it 14-6 on their next series before getting stoned at the goal line again.
“The game, for anyone that watched it, came down to two foot-to-go (situations) at the goal line and penalties,” Panthers tight end Greg Olsen said. “If you start doing the math to how all that adds up, the score’s a different ballgame.
“Offensively, you can’t have two goal-to-go opportunities at the foot line and get a grand total of three points.”
Newton and fullback Mike Tolbert each had two carries from the 1. On fourth-and-goal on the first play of the second quarter, Newton tried to sneak into the end zone behind right guard Chris Scott but was stuffed by linebacker Ahmad Brooks.
On their next possession, Newton gained 6 yards around left end on first-and-goal at the 7 to put the Panthers on the doorstep again. But on second down, Newton tripped over left guard Travelle Wharton and went down for no gain.
On third-and-goal, Tolbert ran behind right guard and was stopped by linebacker NaVorro Bowman for a loss of 1.
Rather than risk getting nothing, Panthers coach Ron Rivera sent Graham Gano out for a 24-yard field goal that made it 10-6.
Panthers left tackle Jordan Gross was at a loss trying to explain what happened.
“One of them was a QB sneak, and they just jammed it up the middle,” Gross said. “We’ve had QB sneaks (where) we’ve gotten 5 yards. But that’s in the middle of the field, goal line’s a different situation. Tolbert got stuffed on one. So you know something bad happened in front of him for him to get stopped.”
Brooks said the goal-line stands were critical for the Niners.
“It was a big statement. It let them know that we came here to play,” Brooks said. “It was a big momentum swing, and that’s what we needed to win this game. We wanted to pack our defense and play the best ball that we were capable of playing. That’s what we did.”