Before this morning’s NFL play-off game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Carolina Panthers, I was a bit worried for my Niners. The teams had the same record, and Carolina had beaten SF in the regular season. That was balanced only by the fact that the 49ers have improved their offensive play as the season went on.
The first half of the game did nothing to settle my emotions. Although San Francisco put the first two scores on the board, the Panthers held them to a field goal both times. Clearly Carolina had the stronger defense, which increased my worries.
The Panthers had greater time of possession and more yardage in the first half. They seemed in command until near halftime, when the 49ers scored a TD. The half ended 13-10 in favor of SF. I really expected the second half to be a battle down to the last minutes, just like SF experienced last week against Green Bay.
To my surprise, the Carolina defense was just a little less solid, Cam Newton and the offense a little less sharp. San Francisco’s defense amped up their play, and QB Colin Kaepernick seemed to find his rhythm. As the third quarter ended, I was cautiously optimistic about my team’s chances of winning.
As most of you know, the 49ers did prevail. The Panthers helped them along a bit, with three or four penalties for unsportsmanlike conduct. There was verbal goading and pushing on both sides, although Carolina was more physical and caught by the officials more often. Probably the biggest trash talker was 49er Anquan Boldin; he was persistent but mainly limited his antagonism to words and gestures.
My favorite play of the game was actually a rather insignificant one by Carolina. Late in the third quarter, Newton threw a pass toward WR Brandon LaFell. The receiver seemed to just pull the football gently from the air. There was no jerk or change of stride to indicate the impact of ball against body. It was “a thing of beauty” as the saying goes.
My favorite moment of the game was the ironic scene seconds before halftime, when Boldin tried to calm Coach Jim Harbaugh, who had gotten a penalty for running onto the field to protest the clock continuing to run after officials ruled Vernon Davis’ reception in the end zone was not a TD (overturned on review).
Next Sunday’s game against the Seattle Seahawks will be even tougher than today’s. In recent years, San Francisco has not done well on Seattle’s home turf. They might benefit by following the New Orleans Saints’ plan of practicing with lots of generated noise to mimic the conditions at Seattle’s CenturyLink Field.