CHARLOTTE -- There have been times this year when Carolina Panthers defensive end Mike Rucker has felt well.
There might not have been a game, however, when he's played so well.
Rucker keyed the Panthers' defensive uprising in their 31-14 win over San Francisco, recording a sack and a half, two hurries and a forced fumble. It was clearly his most productive day of the year, after wondering if he'd be able to play at all following last December's season-ending knee injury.
"It's been a little bit," Rucker said. "I'd have to sit around and think about it. I just felt good. I kind of went back old school.
"It was just fun today; this is what it's all about."
Many in the locker room echoed the fun atmosphere, as coach John Fox emphasized it all week. Few could have imagined the avalanche of sacks that would follow. The finished the game with six, after posting just 10 in the 11 games prior.
Damione Lewis, Thomas Davis and Marquand Manuel each added one, with Julius Peppers, Kris Jenkins and Na'il Diggs each getting a half.
"Like when you were little, it was all about scoring touchdowns and making tackles and sacks and having fun and laughing and jumping around," Rucker said. "That's what we were doing out there today. I feel like we started off fast and we were able to enjoy that."
• BACK TO THE FUTURE: Panthers quarterback Vinny Testaverde, the 44-year-old wonder, said Sunday's game was similar to their last win in Arizona. That's the week he came off the couch to lead them to an unlikely win, as unlikely as what unfolded here Sunday.
"When a 40-something-year-old quarterback comes in here and is playing, I'm sure everybody is wondering what are our chances of winning," Testaverde said. "In the back of our minds we are thinking, 'Hey let's go out and have some fun,' and we wound up winning the game. We just got too serious and pressed too hard. Last night coach Fox mentioned to the team to go out and have fun, relax, go play. That is what we started playing the game for when we first started playing, because we love the game. It was fun to watch."
Testaverde finished an efficient 17-of-26 for 153 yards and two touchdowns. He did throw two interceptions, but generally gave the Panthers the kind of offensive stability they needed.
He also gave them a new wide receiver, splitting out wide on two plays as Steve Smith took direct snaps on trick plays.
"When no one came to cover me, I thought maybe Steve might throw it to me," Testaverde said. "But then, maybe they thought he can catch, so we need to cover him. I've done it a few times in my career, but I've never caught a pass, so I don't think I will be catching one anytime soon."
• ADVANTAGE, BEASON: San Francisco first-round rookie middle linebacker Patrick Willis left here with a game-high 17 tackles. Panthers first-round rookie middle linebacker Jon Beason left with an interception, but more importantly the win.
Willis came into the game leading the league in tackles, and Beason was 10th, as they jockey for potential defensive rookie-of-the-year honors.
"I think if you look at the game, he played outstanding, and I played fairly well for my defense, and I didn't expect anything else," Beason said with a grin. "So, it is what it is, and hopefully we both end up in Hawaii (for the Pro Bowl)."
• EXTRA POINTS: Quarterback David Carr was the team's inactive third Sunday, a precipitous fall for a guy brought in on a two-year, $6.3 million contract this offseason to provide stability at the position.
The Panthers elected to use rookie Matt Moore as the backup to Testaverde.
Also inactive were offensive linemen Evan Mathis and Frank Omiyale, wide receiver Dwayne Jarrett, defensive tackle Gary Gibson, defensive end Charles Johnson, linebacker James Anderson and safety C.J. Wilson. ...
The 49ers deactivated their former No. 1 overall pick quarterback as well, benching the sore-shouldered Alex Smith. Trent Dilfer started, with Shaun Hill backing up. They also deactivated defensive tackle Atiyyah Ellison, the Panthers' third-rounder in 2005 who was cut here as a rookie.