NFC West: 2014 Divisional Round SF-CAR

49ers players save Jim Harbaugh

January, 13, 2014
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh can get carried away.

It happened again Sunday at Carolina. But a great catch by Vernon Davis saved the coach from hurting his team.

Harbaugh was penalized after Davis’ catch was ruled incomplete in the end zone with five seconds remaining in the first half. Harbaugh ran onto the field trying to get an officials' attention. He was flagged for a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Upon review, the play was overturned and Davis was credited with a one-yard touchdown reception that gave the Niners a 13-10 lead at halftime. Harbaugh’s penalty was applied on the kickoff.

"Not happy about it,” Harbaugh said. “Dodged a bullet though. It didn’t cost us. I’m pleased about that. I will try to do better. Our players made it right.”

Harbaugh praised veteran receiver Anquan Boldin for trying to get him off the field.

"Anquan was telling me to stay off the field," Harbaugh said. "He said, 'Coach, we can't have that. Get off the field.' And he was right."
NaVorro BowmanSam Sharpe/USA TODAY SportsNaVorro Bowman said the 49ers had "better players" than Carolina in advancing to the NFC title game.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Linebacker NaVorro Bowman said the reason San Francisco 49ers are moving on to their third NFC Championship Game in as many seasons under coach Jim Harbaugh is simple.

“It came down to we had the better players than they did," the NFL Defensive Player of the Year candidate said after the 49ers’ outphysicaled and outclutched the host Carolina Panthers in a convincing 23-10 victory in the divisional playoffs. “Yeah, we big-boyed them.”

Indeed. The San Francisco 49ers are big, bad boys.

There are few flaws in the franchise, and that was on display Sunday against a Carolina team that is among the league’s best. The problem for Carolina? The 49ers just may be the league’s very best.

San Francisco, which went 12-4 in the regular season and won in Green Bay in the wild-card round, has now won eight straight (the longest current win streak in the NFL) and 13 of their past 15 games.

Now, the inevitable is going to happen -- the 49ers will play at Seattle for the NFC title Sunday. Kickoff is set for 6:30 p.m. ET. It may seem like this game has been developing for a full year between these two NFC West rivals. Each team held serve at their home field during the regular season.

After the win over Carolina, the 49ers seemed to relish the chance to head back to Seattle, where they have been outscored 71-16 the past two visits, for a chance to get back to the Super Bowl. After the 49ers beat Seattle on Dec. 8 at Candlestick Park, guard Alex Boone said several 49ers told Seattle players they’d see them again in the postseason.

“We didn’t lie,” Boone said Sunday. “If you can’t get excited about his game, you don’t belong in this league.”

Sunday, the 49ers showed they belong.

Seeing this team in the NFC Championship Game has become a yearly tradition under Harbaugh. He has made them tough, physical and focused. All that was on display against the Panthers.

This was a different game than when the Panthers beat the 49ers, 10-9, in San Francisco in Week 10.

“We were offended by that loss, that wasn’t us,” San Francisco fullback Anthony Dixon said Sunday. “Today was about showing Carolina that. We played offended. We showed them who we really are.”

San Francisco was much better offensively Sunday than the first meeting. The 49ers found a way to get into the end zone twice in addition to matching the three field goals they settled for in November against the Panthers.

Defensively, the 49ers played winning football against Carolina. Bowman said the team quietly had a feeling the game would develop the way it did.

“It goes back to having the better players,” he said. “We knew they weren’t going to be able to do much on our defense and then our offense was able to do their thing. So, we really take care of what we had to as a team.”

The 49ers took control of the game when Colin Kaepernick hit tight end Vernon Davis in the final seconds of the first half for a TD to take a 13-10 lead. The 49ers scored the second half’s only 10 points.

San Francisco showed it was the better team often in the second half.

The Panthers put together an 8-minute, 12-second drive only to have to punt because the 49ers came up with back-to-back sacks. This wasn’t the only time the San Francisco defense came up clutch. It had a goal-line stand in the first half and forced the Panthers to settle for a field goal on another goal-line drive.

Offensively, the 49ers, who allowed just one sack Sunday after giving up six against the Panthers in November, had the same clutch big plays. Kaepernick hit receiver Anquan Boldin four times for 75 yards in the second half. Running back Frank Gore broke a 39-yard run on third-and-1 to keep another long San Francisco scoring drive alive.

The 49ers weren’t only the better team -- their playoff experience showed as well. This was Kaepernick’s fifth playoff game. It was the first playoff game for Panthers quarterback Cam Newton. San Francisco safety Donte Whitner said it was "just another game" for the 49ers. He said he sensed it was bigger for the Panthers.

“Today, I think our playoff experience helped us,” Whitner said. “I think that showed.”

What showed most? The 49ers are moving to the NFC Championship Game because that’s where they belong.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Colin Kaepernick stole Cam Newton’s “Superman” move.

[+] EnlargeColin Kaepernick
Sam Sharpe/USA TODAY Sports49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick celebrates a touchdown run in the third quarter.
So what.

You know what they say: If you don’t want them to do something, stop them.

The side story of the San Francisco 49ers' 23-10 victory against the Carolina Panthers in the NFC divisional round came when Kaepernick scored on a 4-yard touchdown run with 8:53 remaining in the third quarter, staking the 49ers to a 20-10 lead. Kaepernick mimicked Newton's “Superman” jersey pulling and then Kaepernick did his trademark bicep kiss.

After the game, Kaepernick said it was “just a little shout out.” Kaepernick wasn’t the only 49er to do it. Inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman did the “Superman” move after a fourth-quarter sack of Newton.

When asked about Kaepernick’s actions, Newton said: "It’s not the first nor the last time somebody does that."

Players do this type of stuff all the time. Plenty of San Francisco's foes mimic Kaepernick's bicep kiss.

It’s just a silly little gesture. Newton and the Panthers should be upset about being controlled at home, not a benign motion.

Upon Further Review: 49ers-Panthers

January, 12, 2014
PM ET NFL Nation reporters Bill Williamson and David Newton discuss the 49ers’ 23-10 win over the Panthers in an NFC divisional playoff game.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- A few observations from the San Francisco 49ers' 23-10 win over the Carolina Panthers in the NFC divisional round:

What it means: The 49ers advance to the NFC Championship Game. They play at Seattle on Sunday in what may be the most anticipated game of the season. These teams have been on a collision course since the offseason. This is one of the NFL’s greatest rivalries, and it makes sense they will meet to end the NFC season. The 49ers are going to the NFC title game for the third time in as many seasons under coach Jim Harbaugh.

The difference: The 49ers found the end zone two times, unlike when they settled for field goals in a 10-9 loss to Carolina in Week 10. San Francisco also played terrific goal-line defense. It held on fourth down and forced a field goal on another goal-line series.

Stock watch: Colin Kaepernick and Anquan Boldin were at it again. Kaepernick completed four passes to Boldin for 75 yards in the second half.

Super Kap: Kaepernick had some fun after scoring a second-half touchdown when he did Cam Newton’s Superman gesture and then the signature biceps kiss.

Coaching with heavy heart: Harbaugh’s grandfather Joe Cipiti died Sunday morning at the age of 98.

What’s next: The NFC title game at Seattle. It’s the game we’ve all been waiting for. Can the 49ers solve their recent struggles in Seattle? It won’t be easy. It won’t be quiet either.