- David Newton, ESPN Staff Writer
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Just how big was the win? This was the first time the Panthers (6-3), winners of five straight and six of their past seven, have beaten a team with a .500-or-better record this season. It was the first time they have won a game decided by three or fewer points since Week 7 of the 2010 season, which happened to be a 23-20 victory over San Francisco in Charlotte. Cam Newton had been 0-5 in games decided by a field goal or less, which according to ESPN Stats & Information was the worst record for any quarterback in the NFL since he entered the league in 2011. Josh Freeman was second at 1-5, followed by Matt Moore at 1-4 and Philip Rivers at 3-6.
Just how well did the defense play? The 151 yards allowed was the fewest San Francisco has gained since Week 9 of 2006, when the Vikings held the 49ers to 133 yards. The 49ers had scored 30-plus points in five straight games and in all six of their wins. It was absolute domination. And here's an early vote for middle linebacker Luke Kuechly for NFL Defensive Player of the Week. The second-year player had a team-best 11 tackles, a sack and two tackles for losses.
Safety valve: Newton's numbers were dreadful in the first half as he completed 5 of 14 pass attempts for 54 yards, an interception and a passer rating of 18.2. His top target on the season, Steve Smith, was shut out. Newton adjusted in the second half and completed 6 of 8 attempts to Smith for 63 yards, including 4-of-5 on third down. None was bigger than his 9-yard completion on third-and-8 with 2:18 to play and the Panthers trying to run out the clock. Newton, who had the NFL's top third-down passer rating coming into the game, was 1-for-4 with an interception on third down in the first half.
Ginn's return: Nobody wanted to impress the 49ers more than Ted Ginn Jr., who had only two catches for his former team in 2012. Ginn only caught two passes for 19 yards after being targeted four times on Sunday, but he made a huge contribution with his punt returns. After averaging fewer than 11 yards a return in the first eight games, he averaged 21.7 yards on three returns Sunday, almost breaking a couple. He was so excited that he developed cramps and had to go into the locker room for an IV at one point.
It was a fumble: I asked coach Ron Rivera why the officials didn't overturn the incomplete pass call on a play to San Francisco tight end Vernon Davis in the second quarter to a catch and fumble. It appeared to the Panthers and almost everyone at Candlestick Park that Davis had possession, was stripped of the ball and Carolina's Thomas Davis recovered. Rivera's explanation from the officials: "Well, apparently, there are three phases as to what has to happen on a catch and he hit two out of three." He didn't sound convinced. None of the Panthers did, either. "He took three steps. He took three steps. Ball out,'" safety Mike Mitchell said.
Bonus observation: Rivera was asked whether he had any hesitation on sending kicker Graham Gano out for the game-winning 53-yard field goal in the fourth quarter. Really? Gano's missed 48-yarder in the third quarter was his first after going 12-for-12. He is now 5-for-5 on field goals of 50 or more yards, the most in the league from that range. Rivera, by the way, had no hesitation.