The Carolina Panthers had everything set up for a deep playoff run. With the second seed in the NFC playoffs, the Panthers were able to rest during the opening round of the postseason, and they were able to stay home against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday afternoon. With so much working in their favor, Carolina’s loss to the 49ers stings that much more for a team that entered the playoffs as one of the league’s hottest squads.
The 49ers weren’t able to hit their stride until late in the second quarter. For the Panthers, the game was a saga of missed opportunities. Twice in the first half, the Panthers were inside the five yard line but were only able to come away with a grand total of three points. While the 49ers struggled to get out of the starting blocks, the Panthers were moving the ball and getting little to show for their efforts.
The 49ers’ first signs of true life came on a touchdown drive inside the final two minute of the drive. Colin Kaepernick was able to keep the offense moving for the first time in the game, and holes finally began to show up in the Panthers’ secondary, giving Anquan Boldin, Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis room to make plays in the passing game.
More often than not, playoff games are decided by a few select big plays that one team makes or a mistake that their opponent makes. That wasn’t the case in Carolina. The 49ers and Panthers played a classically physical and chippy game, but there wasn’t any individual play that won or lost the game for either team.
Sunday afternoon’s game wasn’t without its problems. Officials made a handful of questionable calls as well as missing more. Even worse, the officiating was inconsistent at best. Early in the game, the Panthers were penalized for a head butt after a play. That’s not a problem, but later in the first half, officials failed to penalize Boldin for doing the exact same thing with an official standing right beside him. That drive resulted in touchdown that gave the 49ers the lead going into halftime.
The matchup between the 49ers and Panthers had a lot to offer on paper, but watching the game felt more like a regular season game than it did a postseason do-or-die meeting. In essence, it was disappointing to see what should have been a smash mouth game turn into a lopsided contest, but few will complain about a third Seahawks, 49ers matchup in Seattle. It may not have been an exciting game to watch, but it sets up a fantastic NFC championship game a week from now.