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The 49ers avenged their week 10 loss to the Carolina Panthers with a big 23-10 win in the NFC Divisional playoff. The first half played out very similar to that first matchup as the 49ers built up a 6-0 lead in the first quarter before seeing the Panthers come back to take a 10-6 lead.
The game changed late in the second quarter when the 49ers were able to drive the length of the field and score a touchdown right before time expired when Colin Kaepernick hit Vernon Davis for a 1 yard touchdown throw.
The 49ers opened the second half with another touchdown drive to go up 20-10, this one capped with a 4 yard run by Kaepernick. From there it was the 49ers defense that took center stage. After the ensuing Panther drive saw them take the ball all the way to San Francisco's 29 yard line back to back sacks drove them out of field goal position, and as importantly had taken over 8 minutes off the game clock.
The victory sets up a rubber match with the Seattle Seahawks. The NFC West division rivals have split their first two meetings so far this season. The winner on Sunday not only breaks the tie but will punch their ticket to New York for Super Bowl 48.
Here are the answers to the 5 questions that I asked on Friday:
1) Can the 49ers be successful on 1st down? Not so much, but better than week 10
The 49ers finished the day averaging 4.2 yards per play on 1st down, an improvement over the 2.9 yards they averaged on first down back in week 10. The average was greatly impacted by their ineffectiveness throwing the ball, and runs of 0 or fewer yards while trying to run the clock out late. On first down Kaepernick was 2-8 for 64 yards, and they gained 42 yards on 19 runs.
2) How will the return of Michael Crabtree impact the 49ers offense? A lot
In the week 10 matchup with Carolina, Kaepernick was able to throw for only 91 yards. With Crabtree on the field Sunday he was able to beat the Panthers secondary for 196 yards, 136 of those to Anquan Boldin.
In addition to Crabtree the 49ers offense had Vernon Davis and Quinton Patton, both of whom were missed for the all or the majority of the first game. Davis' touchdown grab right before the end of the first half put the 49ers in the lead, while Patton came up big on the opening drive of the game with a 23 yard grab to convert the 49ers first 3rd down.
3) How effective will Steve Smith be? Very effective early, not effective late
In the first half Smith caught all 4 passes thrown to him for 74 yards, including a 31 yard touchdown grab. The 49ers shut him out in the second half, allowing him to be targeted only 1 time.
4) How will Tarell Brown hold up? Pretty good
Brown was beat by Steve Smith for a 31 yard touchdown early in the 2nd quarter, but he was able to keep everything in front of him after that. By my count he gave up 5 catches for 82 yards, 17 of those coming on a completion late in the 4th quarter after the 49ers had gone up 23-10 and were playing soft zone coverage.
5) Can the 49ers offensive line hold up against the Panthers front 7? Yes
After giving up 6 sacks in the meeting back in week 10, the 49ers offensive line gave up only 1 sack to a Panthers defense that came into the game with the most in the NFL. They also did a good job of opening up holes in the run game as the 49ers gained 126 yards on the ground. Pretty good when you consider the 49ers offense gained 151 total yards in the first meeting.
49ers 19 Panthers 17
At least I got the winner right.