The San Francisco 49ers were able to pull off another road playoff victory, giving Colin Kaepernick the most away playoff wins of any quarterback in 49ers’ history with 3.
The win was a great team effort, and it is difficult to credit any one individual for it. Though coaches and players often like to recite the “win as a team” mantra, often one player or unit steps up and shines above the rest. For the 49ers, this has usually been the defense. The defense stepped up big Sunday with two goal-line stands, but the offense, playing against one of the top defenses in the NFL, eventually stepped up big-time as well.
Despite a good first drive and great field position to start the second, the 49ers could only muster two field goals by kicking ace Phil Dawson. The defense, though bending, continued to do its job with a goal-line stand. A quick three-and-out, however, and the Carolina Panthers pounced on great field position on former 49er Ted Ginn Jr.’s 24-yard punt return. One play, one touchdown, as Tramaine Brock‘s excellent coverage was not enough to stop Cam Newton‘s perfect pass from finding Steve Smith for a 31-yard touchdown. After another goal-line stand held the Panthers to 3 more points, the 49er offense got to work.
A series of first downs, a great grab by Michael Crabtree, and a key pass-interference penalty on 3rd and goal set up the 49ers first and goal at the 1. On second down Vernon Davis tied the NFL playoff record for tight-end touchdowns. Originally called incomplete, Jim Harbaugh got the best unsportsmanlike conduct penalty of his life, as it gave the replay official enough time to signal down for a replay. It may have been called down anyway, but who knows? In any case, there should have been 7 or 8 seconds on the clock, enough to give the 49ers a play before a field goal try, as 5 seconds likely would not have been enough. Fortunately, we do not have to worry about the “what-if,” as replay eventually got the call right.
The second half began as the first ended: with a 49er stop and near-9 minute drive ending in a Kaepernick rushing touchdown. A 7:35 drive starting with around a minute to go in the fourth extended the 49ers’ lead to 13, but more importantly left the Panthers without much time on the clock.
A horrendous call went against the 49ers on the Panthers’ last drive, as Dan Skuta was called for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Newton. I did not see any contact between Skuta and Newton’s head, and any contact would have been initiated by Newton’s turning directly into Skuta. Fortunately, a Donte Whitner interception iced the game. Some good runs and an entertaining fake punt attempt — which was an excellent call, since a first down would have ended the game and the fake avoided having to send a gunner down the field on arguably the most dangerous play in the game of football, save kickoffs. Besides, there was no one guarding the gunners, as it was an all-out punt block. It is a shame Andy Lee‘s arm did not get enough on it.
The 49ers pulled out an impressive road victory against a solid Carolina team. Essential to the win were the two touchdowns, after 17 straight possessions this season against the Panthers without a single one. The 49er defense kept the offense in the game and clamped down in the second half, with some help from a couple great, long offensive drives.
The 49ers, of course, travel to CenturyLink field next Sunday to play a highly-anticipated game against a fierce rival. Get excited.