The San Francisco 49ers earned another well-fought playoff victory on the road today, beating the Carolina Panthers. The game was expected to be a defensive battle — as it was for the most part — but as the second half emerged, the 49ers proved to be too dominant.
The first half was a stalemate as both defenses had moments of bending, refusing to break. Carolina formulated some nice drives, but was denied twice in the redzone as San Francisco’s defense stood tall. Cam Newton seemed to be cracking the code on San Francisco’s defense early, completing sharp passes with good reads.
Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers’ offense were out of rhythm beginning the game. Their aerial attack was invisible as was their ground-and-pound. Nearing the end of the first-half, Kaepernick led his men down the field, capping off a brilliant scoring drive with a one-yard touchdown pass to Vernon Davis. The 49ers headed into the locker room, heads held high, with a 13-10 lead; they would take over from then-on, completely dominating the Panthers in the second-half.
Newton’s offense went three-and-out starting the second half, giving the ball right back to a scolding San Francisco offense. Kaepernick, making plays as he normally does when it matters most, led his team down the field, ending the drive with a personal four-yard touchdown run. It was beginning to show; San Francisco’s offense and defense was feeling the chemistry of two hormone-crazed teens.
Carolina began to fell apart. The Panthers were leading a surgical drive down-field and milked nearly nine minutes off of the clock. It appeared the Panthers were going to keep the game close, until Newton was sacked back-to-back on a second and third-down, once again returning the ball to Kaepernick and his heated men.
The 49ers turned the possession into more points, kicking a 34-yard field-goal. Newton would attempt a scoring drive, only to force the ball into coverage, getting picked off by 49ers’ Donte Whitner. The 49ers completed the victory from there and sucked the life out of the clock.
The 49ers were a different team this second-half; they were extremely sharp on both offense and defense. San Francisco’s defense was as firm as the Great Wall of China, not allowing a score in the second-half. They sacked Newton five times, rattling him, forcing mistakes. Offensively, tailback Frank Gore came alive and broke off some much-needed runs. Kaepernick’s arm brought the Panthers’ defense back to earth, turning many drives into points, sealing the game.
Anquan Boldin was a nightmare for the Panthers’ secondary today, grabbing eight catches for 136 yards. He was an immense contributor in moving the chains to get this offense rolling. San Francisco pummeled the Panthers, 23-10.
Overall, the 49ers did what great teams do, making plays when needed, forcing key stops, and limiting their mistakes. San Francisco has now won two back-to-back road playoff games, defying the punishing elements and crazed crowds. They advance to the NFC Championship, taking on the Seattle Seahawks in one of the most difficult places to play, CenturyLink Field. These two teams possess a brewing hatred for one another; the NFC Championship game shall only enhance it, making for a great game.