(By Daisy Barringer)
I thought the score would be closer. I thought Carolina’s defense would play tougher. And I thought we’d be biting our nails all the way through the fourth quarter. I may have been wrong about all of that, but I was right about the only thing that mattered: The 49ers have what it takes to beat a No. 2 ranked defense and they showed that yesterday in an emotional 23-10 win over the Carolina Panthers. A win that sends them to Seattle to face the Seahawks in the NFC Championship game. A win that showed this team can play with their hearts on their sleeves and not let their emotions get the best of them. (Well, except for Coach Harbaugh, of course...)
It was the 49ers first divisional-playoff win on the road since 1970. I mean, that’s a long time ago, before I was even born. Things were looking a little iffy in the first half when the Niners settled for two field goals instead of touchdowns. Cam Newton hit Steve Smith for a touchdown to put the Panthers up 7-6. A Panthers field goal put them up 10-6 and, without warning, it was imperative that the 49ers score before the end of the half.
And thanks to an amazing drive in which Anquan Boldin proved he was worth way more than a sixth round draft pick (receptions of 12, 14, and 15 yards). And a crazy catch by Vernon Davis that was ruled out of bound, but then overturned, the Niners did just that going up 13-10.
The ruling on the field also allowed Anquan Boldin to show he’s not just about making big catches as he was the one who tried to calm Harbaugh down after the coach ran onto the field screaming at the ref and incurred a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. Luckily, the refs gave the Niners the TD and saved Harbaugh from a brain aneurysm or worse.
That score at the end of the half seemed to change the momentum of the game as the Panthers weren't able to get anything done when they returned from the locker room. Frank Gore had 67 of his 84 yards in the second half. Donte Whitner had an interception. Cam Newton was sacked four times. (Back-to-back sacks by Bowman and Brooks was one of my favorite highlights; you know I love two sacks in a row. The people sitting next to me said my enthusiasm bordered on sexual. I can neither confirm nor deny this; I just know when it comes to sacks, two is better than one.)
Of course, it wasn’t all about the second half. Patrick Willis intercepted Cam Newton (who was making his first-ever playoff appearance) in the first quarter that, aided by an unnecessary roughness call on Carolina, set up a Phil Dawson field goal. The defense also stopped the Panthers at the 1-yard line at the beginning of the second quarter (on 4th and 1) and again towards the end of the second quarter. In addition, Ahmad Brooks had his first sack of the game.
Still, the second half was when the offense really came alive and the defense kept doing what they always do, keeping the Panthers scoreless. The Panthers did heaps of trash talking in the first half — more than I’ve seen in any game in a long, long time — but they fell quiet as the Niners proved they were more focused and the better team.
I wish I could say that I was going to take a day to enjoy the victory, but with the NFC Championship game in Seattle looming, it’s basically impossible to think about anything other than next Sunday.
I never had a very strong opinion about the Seahawks prior to the last couple of years, but this year their fans have become utterly intolerable. Like: I hate them. And I hate Richard Sherman and Pete Carroll inspires a disgust in me that no man has ever done before. But the fact of the matter is: The Seattle Seahaws are a good team. And we have to go into Seattle where it’s loud loud loud. Oh - I also HATE the 12th man. Like, so dumb. If you’re a Seattle fan who has a jersey with #12 on it, you are The Worst Ever.
So yeah, you could say I’m pretty fired up about next Sunday’s game. All we have to do is beat Seattle and we’ll be back in the Super Bowl. And, though I don’t want to get ahead of myself, I think the toughest opponent we’ll have to face in the coming weeks is Seattle. If we can beat them, we can certainly beat New England or Denver. KNOCK ON WOOD RIGHT THIS SECOND.
Alas, we need to take this one game at a time. Let’s all take a moment to revel in the joy that was beating the Panthers on the road. Okay, finished? Good. Because we have a lot of work to do in order to beat this Seattle team. I think the crazy emotions the players showed on the field yesterday will be a good thing though. Seattle is going to talk trash all day long.
But if they think the Niners are going to take it, they’ve got another thing coming. We proved that—and more—on the field yesterday. Get ready Seattle. We’re coming for you.