By Justin Henry
Cold Hard Football Facts' Dr. Death (@jrhwriting)
The over/under line of 41.5 seemed unrealistic, given that the first meeting between the 49ers and Panthers ended 10-9 in favor of Carolina. Turns out, taking the under was the smart money, but the game wasn't as airtight as the November 10 meeting, with San Francisco largely coasting to a 23-10 victory on Sunday afternoon in Charlotte.
The game was chippy at times, with a number of personal fouls and after-play skirmishes. Even Jim
Harbaugh got docked for an unsportsmanlike penalty after vehemently protesting a called-off, would-be touchdown pass (overruled in his favor shortly thereafter). San Francisco will need this attitude as they head to Seattle for a highly-anticipated rubber match.
1. Missed Goalline Opportunity Hurts Panthers
Down 6-0 late in the first quarter, Carolina began a goal-to-go operation with a chance to take the lead. With two chances to strike from the one-yard line, Mike Tolbert and Cam Newton failed, and San Francisco took over on downs. Though the Panthers scored a touchdown on their next drive, it doesn't discount blowing a golden opportunity after losing the trench fight.
Carolina became the tenth team to clear 300 yards of offense on San Fran this season, but managed only 10 points on 325 yards, a hideous 32.50 Scoreability rating (a touchdown every 227.5 yards). Compare that to the 49ers, who scored 23 points on 315 yards, for a healthier 13.70 Scoreability rating. That's a touchdown for every 95.87 yards gained.
2. The Turnover Battle
For Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers part, there were no turnovers to give away. Kaepernick has thrown only two interceptions since November 25, and the 49ers have only turned the ball over four times across those eight games, playoffs included. Being that it's an eight-game winning streak, it's easy to see efficiency as San Francisco's guiding hand.
Carolina wasn't so lucky. The Panthers turned the ball over twice in the loss, both losses on Cam Newton interceptions. Patrick Willis made the first off of a deflection in the first quarter, which led to a field goal. The second was a game-sealer late in the fourth quarter to Donte Whitner, as Carolina tried in vain to make it a one-score game.
3. Negative Pass Plays Favor 49ers
The Panthers compiled 60 sacks for the season, the most in the NFL. With Colin Kaepernick being dropped 39 times this season, odds were in favor of more than just the one that Luke Kuechly garnered. San Francisco only gave up one Negative Pass Play in 30 total dropbacks, an incredible 3.3% fail rate in the face of Sean McDermott's D.
Across the way, Cam Newton dealt with possibly the worst game of his season (which it is, considering it knocks the Panthers out). Newton was sacked five times, with two and a half coming from the line-jumping Ahmad Brooks. Coupled with the two picks, that's seven NPP's in 30 dropbacks, for a staggering 23.33% of fails occurring. San Fran's defense won this game.