So I posted my biased approach to the game earlier today and this is my analytical take on the game. Playoff football is faster, stronger, and more difficult to win. A team has to play all 4 quarters in order to win and the Panthers simply failed to do that. Mental, defensive, and offensive breakdowns all lead to the demise of the Panthers wonderful season. So let’s take a deeper look into what went wrong.
The Panthers were clearly the team with less playoff experience. They let the 49ers get in their head and it resulted in plenty of penalties that kept the 49ers in the game. The Panthers committed 5 penalties on 3rd down that gave the 49ers offense a 1st down. You have to get the offense off the field and if your head is not 100% in the game you are going to lose. No penalty was costlier than Josh Thomas’s unnecessary roughness penalty in the 4th quarter.
With 4 minutes left in the game and the Panthers down 13, the defense was able to force an incompletion that would force the 49ers to punt. However, Josh Thomas (in his first playoff game) decided to take a swing at a 49ers player and picked up the 15 yard penalty that all but eliminated any hope the Panthers had left. With 4 minutes left in the game, it was improbable that the Panthers would win, but not impossible. However, the 49ers picked up another first down on a penalty and were able to chew up more clock. I fully expect Josh Thomas to be cut this offseason. He struggled mightily in coverage all season and that penalty has to be the straw that broke the camel’s back.
You win the turnover battle you more than likely win the game. The Panthers had 2 turnovers to the 49ers 0. Both turnovers were Cam Newton interceptions. The first came on a deflected pass thrown behind Brandon Lafell (Cam may have been targeting Olsen on the play, there were 3 receivers in that area. Clearly someone ran the wrong route). The second pick looked like Cam Newton from last season. He was clearly trying to do too much. The team was driving and there was plenty of time left in the game. That interception was simply unacceptable. Cam took it pretty hard. Steve Smith had to talk to him on the sidelines after the pick (I would have loved to hear what Smith was saying).
The 49ers simply made more plays than the Panthers. They forced more turnovers, operated more efficiently in the red zone, and played smarter. The Panthers had 8 plays inside the San Francisco 10 yard line and failed to score a touchdown. The worst was a 3rd and a foot on which Tolbert lost a yard. I thought that should have been a quarterback sneak. They decided to run the sneak on the next play, fourth and short. Rather than jump over the pile and easily extend to break the plain, Cam elected to go low and was promptly stuffed by Ahmad Brooks.
The Panthers ate up almost 9 minutes of the 3rd quarter on a drive that resulted in 0 points. The Panthers were in field goal range, but back to back sacks of Cam Newton forced the Panthers to punt. Cam held the ball too long on both plays. The 49ers followed it up with a drive resulting in a field gaol that made the score 23-10. Having that field goal and another one back from the failed 4th and 1 conversion would have left the Panthers only down one score (23-16). Hindsight is 20/20 right?
The defense failed to pressure Kaepernick the way the 49ers defense was able to pressure Cam. Kaepernick was sacked once ( 0 times by a defensive lineman) compared to the 5 sacks of Cam Newton (2.5 came from Ahmad Brooks). Charles Johnson was hurt on the very first play of the game, a marvelous stuff of Frank Gore than ended with a lineman falling on Johnson’s knee. Johnson got up limping but was able to return to the game. He clearly was not the same as the Panthers pass rush was essentially nonexistent all game.
So Much for Homefield Advantage
Looking in the crowd at Bank of America stadium you would not be able to tell this game was in Charlotte. Half the crowd seemed to be clad in 49ers red. This game should have been dominated by Panthers fans, but since this franchise is relatively new, there are plenty of fans of other franchises in the area. The 49ers have always been a popular bandwagon team in this area (as well as the Cowboys and Steelers). I am disappointed in Charlotte for the poor turnout of Panthers fans. The crowd should have been electric, yet the 49ers fans chants could still be heard throughout the game.
The better team won this game. The 49ers are a very experienced playoff team and that was evident on Sunday. The season may be over but there is hope in Charlotte. Players and coaches believe this is just the beginning of something special and I wholeheartedly agree. Ron Rivera is building a contender in Charlotte and with a young nucleus of Cam and Luke to lead both sides of the ball this team will be dangerous for years to come. So while we are fans are sulking after the loss, the Panthers will be working everyday to get better and to be able to return to the playoffs next season. Thank you Panthers for a wonderful season. It has been a blast to watch. What’s that saying? Oh yeah, KEEP POUNDING!!!