By Jerrell Richardson
The 49ers and Panthers game was deemed to be a battle of the two hottest teams in the NFC, and it lived up to the hype. It was a physical, defensive battle, highlighted by several long field goals, with the Panthers, not the 49ers keeping their winning streak alive with a 10-9 victory. While San Francisco was ahead for most of the day, Carolina was able to grab the lead late and then hold on for the win.
Offense Grade: F
The 49ers inability to pass the ball had a lot to do with them losing this game. It was expected for the offense as a whole to struggle against a stifling Carolina defense, but not like this. Frank Gore had some success against the best defensive front seven in football, rushing for 82 yards, but was not given the ball enough, finishing with only 16 touches. The 49ers were always within striking distance, so it’s a surprise that the offense went away from Gore, especially when considering the 46 total yards pitched in from Colin Kaepernick and the passing attack.
It’s hard to blame it on Kaepernick, but the fact remains that he finished his day 11 for 22, threw for 91 yards, had no touchdowns and threw a game-ending interception. His performance though had just as much to do with the players around him as anything else. The offensive line could not protect the pocket as Kaepernick was sacked six times and under duress for most of the day, while the receivers were unable to get open. The offense was also dealt a crippling blow when it lost its most consistent target this season, Vernon Davis, who left in the first half with a concussion.
The 49ers offense needed four field goals to win and sadly, couldn’t get it done. This performance would be a lot more alarming if not for the Davis injury, the opponent, and that fact that Kaepernick is still getting back his receiving threats. The running game was still effective and as long as the defense continues to play like it did, San Francisco will be just fine once Mario Manningham and the recently activated Michael Crabtree are back in the flow of things
Defense Grade: A-
Unlike the offense, the 49er defense was impressive. They held Carolina to 250 total yards and two scoring drives. Quarterback Cam Newton may have played better than Kaepernick, but not by a lot. Newton finished with 169 yards, no touchdowns, one interception, but the bottom line is that he won the game. When Newton needed to make a play in the passing game he went to Steve Smith who hauled in six catches for 63 yards, and the Panthers got just enough from their running game.
With a two-headed rushing attack of Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams, the Panthers were able to eclipse the 100-yard mark on the ground. However, 27 yards came on Williams’ first half touchdown run, and otherwise the defense may have bent but never broke. Time after time they got the ball back for the offense who failed to capitalize.
Not only did the Panthers only score 12 points, but the San Francisco defense barely missed recovering two late fumbles that would have made for an interesting finish.
Special Teams Grade: C
The 49ers coaching staff finally went with LaMichael James for punt returns and Anthony Dixon for kickoffs. While Dixon should not have returned his only kick off opportunity, James’ 35 yards on three punt returns was an upgrade from his predecessor and should only get better as he gets more comfortable in the role. The reliable Andy Lee and Phil Dawson were again solid, but where the special teams suffered was in coverage. Former 49er Ted Ginn burned them on punts with 65 return yards and added another 42 on kickoffs. In a game all about field position and field goals, Ginn earned himself a game ball.
While this loss may cause some in 49er nation to panic, everything will be fine. Although the 49ers passing attack continues to let them down, it’s hard to expect the last ranked passing attack to have a successful day after losing its main weapon, and Mario Manningham is still rusty. A game total of 46 passing yards will not happen with Davis, Manningham and the soon to be activated Crabtree on the field.
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Jerrell Richardson is a Bay Area native who due to a college career at San Diego State University has grown an appreciation for all things sports related in California. His heart will always remain in San Francisco though where he currently resides and covers everything from the San Francisco 49ers and Giants to the San Jose Sharks and California Bears Baseball team. Jerrell is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. His work can be found on Examiner.com.