Panthers hit with Kryptonite
Posted January 13
1. The Carolina Panthers were not playing the same San Francisco 49ers team from Week 10. The moment of clarity arrived late in the second quarter of the NFC Divisional Round, after the Panthers settled for a field goal. Trailing 10-6 with 3:41 left before halftime, the Niners began exposing Carolina's secondary with their compliment of healthy receivers.
San Francisco entered Panthers territory after Colin Kaepernick hit Anquan Boldin for gains of 12 yards and 14 yards. Kaepernick found Michael Crabtree, absent from the last meeting due to injury, on the left for a 20-yard gain. The Niners set up for a 1st-and-goal after Kaepernick connected with Boldin again for a 15-yard pass.
Vernon Davis, who was knocked out early in the previous meeting, hauled in a touchdown pass from a yard out after the Niners were given a fresh set of downs following a pass interference penalty on Drayton Florence.
You can only hide a makeshift secondary full of journeymen and undrafted rookies for many months. None of them are January.— Darin Gantt (@daringantt) January 12, 2014
After Carolina sputtered out of the gate to start the second half, San Francisco dropped another doozy on the defense when Boldin set up the back-breaking touchdown with a 45-yard completion to the Panthers' 2-yard line.
Down 20-10 midway through the third quarter and unable to break free from San Francisco's defensive stranglehold, the game was effectively over for the Panthers.
2. The Panthers faced two 4th-and-goal situations in the first half. Head coach Ron Rivera put on his riverboat gambler hat when presented with the first and was rewarded with a touchdown on the following drive after San Francisco was pinned on their own 1-yard line. Rivera was probably right to take the points with a field goal the second time, but everything went downhill for Carolina after building a 10-6 lead.
#Panthers steamrolled after settling for FG & going up 10-6 w/3:41 left in 2nd qtr: outgained 256-120 and outscored 17-0.— Bill Voth (@billvoth) January 12, 2014
Bad defense, bad penalties and Cam Newton's interceptions in the second half all contributed to the unraveling.
3. Cam Newton was fantastic in the opening half against San Francisco, but Colin Kaepernick ended up getting the best of his counterpart and showed him up in the process.
The quarterback wasn't done after the game, taking to Instagram for a little more smack talk directed at Newton.
Kaepernick finished with 196 yards on 15-of-28 passing with a touchdown to go along with his score on the ground. Where Kaepernick exceeded and Newton failed in the second half had plenty to do with each team's respective pass rush. San Francisco did an excellent job negating Carolina's defensive front, which only sacked Kaepernick once. The Panthers' couldn't provide the same level of protection. Newton was sacked five times and pressured into bad throws, including two interceptions.
The real Kryptonite was applied to wide receiver Steve Smith. After hauling in a touchdown in the second quarter, the Niners clamped down on Smith and made him a non-factor in the second half.
4. The Carolina Panthers were penalized eight times for 73 yards. Some of them were warranted. Other calls not so much.
While I'm not interested in focusing on the officials, the discrepancy on head-butting was egregious. If precedent was set flagging Captain Munnerlyn, the refs failed to follow it twice late in the second quarter during San Francisco's scoring drive.
Then again, officials also couldn't count to 12. Perhaps we're expecting too much from the NFL.
5. Let's look at the glass half-full and call Carolina's season a success. The Panthers went 12-4, won the NFC South and finally found an identity.
Carolina managed to mask their deficiencies rather than let them sink the season, which plenty of fans and pundits expected following another shaky start to the year. At the very least, Carolina knows what it needs to fix in the offseason. Now it's up to general manager Dave Gettleman to address those issues.