San Francisco 49ers: 2013 Week 10 CAR at SF

KaepernickAP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezColin Kaepernick could not spark the 49ers on offense and was sacked a season-high six times.
SAN FRANCISCO -- The NFL can be fickle both in perception and in reality.

The San Francisco 49ers could have easily extended their win streak to six games and gone into New Orleans next Sunday with a hard-earned victory on their resume.

Instead, the 49ers -- who lost 10-9 to the visiting Carolina Panthers in a game that had a January feel -- will enter Week 11 facing questions about whether they can beat a good team and have fallen too far behind the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC West hunt. Both are legitimate questions.

But it was so close to not being the case.

The Panthers twice recovered fumbles in their own territory in the final two minutes. Carolina’s only points came on a 27-yard touchdown run by DeAngelo Williams late in the first half and a 53-yard field goal in the fourth quarter by Graham Gano.

Defensively, the 49ers continued to play winning football. However, the San Francisco offense -- which scored at least 31 points in the five-game winning streak leading into this game -- missed tight end Vernon Davis in the second half as he sat out because of a concussion. The 49ers, whose offense mustered three Phil Dawson field goals in the first half, showed no life in the second half with just 45 yards.

The result of the close call, puts the 49ers in a tough spot moving forward.

The loss to the Panthers, who have now won five consecutive games, drops the 49ers to 6-3. San Francisco, fell to 3-2 at home and with just its the second loss at home under Jim Harbaugh after Nov. 1, and is now 2.5 games behind Seattle. The Seahawks improved to 9-1 with a victory at Atlanta on Sunday. The Seahawks, one of the best home teams in the NFL, have four of their final six games at home.

Thus, winning the NFC West may be difficult for San Francisco.

If the 49ers, who are 2-3 against teams with winning records, do not win the NFC West, the highest playoff seed it could attain is No. 5. And the only possible home game would be as host to the No. 6 seed in the NFC title game. Thus, there is a good chance the final game at Candlestick Park will be in the regular-season finale Dec. 23 against Atlanta.

So Sunday’s loss could have long-lasting effects on the defending NFC champions.

Still, Harbaugh vowed the team will straighten itself out quickly.

“We’ll do what we do, we’ll bounce back,” Harbaugh said. “Regroup.”

The 49ers must do so quickly. They have a big game next Sunday at New Orleans that, like the Carolina game, has major playoff implications.

The 49ers must learn they can’t win if they are not at their best. The past five games were no contest for the 49ers. They ripped every opponent. Their closest margin of victory was 12 points.

In their past two games, at Tennessee and in London against Jacksonville, the 49ers jumped out to 24-0 and 28-0 leads. Sunday's game against Carolina was close throughout even though the 49ers did lead 9-0 late in the second quarter.

That’s the difference between the Seahawks and the 49ers this season. The Seahawks have had several games in which they didn’t play well. But they found ways to win. The 49ers couldn’t do that Sunday.

Most of the 49ers’ woes were on offense, especially after Davis left. San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick was under duress all game and had few answers. He was sacked a season-high six times.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Kaepernick was 0-for-6 on throws deeper than 10 yards downfield Sunday. It was the first time in 19 NFL starts that he failed to complete a deep pass. Kaepernick threw for just 91 yards.

The return of wideout Mario Manningham -- he played for the first time this season after suffering a knee injury in December -- did not spark the offense. Manning had three catches for 30 yards, but with Davis out most of the game, the 49ers' offense was out of sync. Mannigham is a complimentary receiver. But Michael Crabtree, who is expected back in early December, is an impact player.

Until then, the 49ers have to find some answers.

“It’s unacceptable,” receiver Anquan Boldin said of the team’s offensive performance Sunday. “Obviously, we didn’t get it done.”

And that’s the current reality for a team that lost to one of the NFL’s hottest teams by one point.
SAN FRANCISCO -- Observed in the locker room after the San Francisco 49ers' 10-9 loss to the Carolina Panthers:

Quiet place: This loss hurt the 49ers and the locker room was sedate afterward. They hadn’t lost since Sept. 23 and had crushed opponents during their five-game win streak. The 49ers knew they had opportunities, so players were not pleased with being shut out in the second half Sunday. The 49ers had scored at least 31 points in every game during the win streak.

Harbaugh stays positive: When the 49ers fell to 1-2, coach Jim Harbaugh said the next day that he relished the opportunity to face adversity and whip it. Sunday after this heartbreaking loss, Harbaugh had the same attitude. “It's a sinking feeling,” Harbaugh said. “We didn't get the job done as a team. We'll bounce back. We'll come storming back."

Davis injury hurt: Harbaugh said the loss of tight end Vernon Davis hurt the 49ers. It limited the alignments the team could use. The 49ers were a much weaker offense in the second half with Davis out with a concussion.

Rapid Reaction: San Francisco 49ers

November, 10, 2013

SAN FRANCISCO -- A few thoughts on the San Francisco 49ers' 10-9 home loss to the Carolina Panthers:

What it means: The 49ers' five-game winning streak is over. They are 6-3 and 2 games behind 9-1 Seattle in the NFC West. The Panthers -- who recovered two fumbles in their territory in the final two minutes -- extend their win streak to five games. The 49ers fell to 3-2 at home, and it is just the second loss at home under Jim Harbaugh after Nov. 1. This was a hard-fought, close game, but the 49ers could not make enough plays on offense to win.

Smith plays on a limited basis: 49ers star pass-rusher Aldon Smith was in for a handful of plays in his first action since Week 3. Smith returned after treatment for substance abuse. He looked good and had a strong burst on the plays he was in. The 49ers are easing him back in as he regains his conditioning.

Injuries stack up: The 49ers came out of the bye in terrific health. But they were beat up Sunday. Tight end Vernon Davis and rookie safety Eric Reid both left with concussions. They will have to pass NFL protocol before being cleared to play next week. It is Reid’s second concussion of the season. Defensive tackle Ray McDonald also left with an ankle injury.

Stock watch: The 49ers had very little passing success with Davis out Sunday. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick threw for just 91 yards. Receiver Mario Manningham made his season debut after being out with a knee injury. He had three catches for 30 yards.

What’s next: The 49ers have another huge test at New Orleans on Sunday in a game that has major NFC playoff implications.