1:05 PM ET, January 12, 2014
Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, NC
While San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick aims to continue his postseason success with a much better performance than his last against Carolina, the Panthers' Cam Newton won't make too much of his playoff debut.
Trying for an eighth straight victory that would send them to their third consecutive NFC championship game, Kaepernick and the visiting 49ers look to avenge a regular-season loss to Newton and the Panthers on Sunday.
In perhaps the roughest of his 27 career starts, Kaepernick went 11 of 22 for a season-low 91 yards with an interception, was sacked a career-high six times and rushed for 16 during San Francisco's 10-9 home loss to Carolina on Nov. 10. By holding the hosts to a season-low 151 yards to win their fourth straight in the series, the Panthers also cooled off a 49ers team that at the time was riding a five-game winning streak during which it averaged 34.8 points.
"We owe 'em," Kaepernick said after he threw for 227 yards and ran for 98 during a 23-20 wild-card victory at Green Bay on Sunday.
Bucking the elements by not wearing long sleeves, Kaepernick improved to 3-1 in the postseason. He defied the bitter cold and harsh winds to complete 16 of 30 passes, including eight for 125 yards to Michael Crabtree and a key fourth-quarter 28-yard scoring strike to a well-covered Vernon Davis.
Kaepernick averaged only 32.8 rushing yards during the regular season, but he often used his legs to keep drives alive against the Packers. His 11-yard run on third-and-8 set up Phil Dawson's 33-yard field goal as time expired.
Kaepernick has gained 362 yards while averaging 11.3 per run in his four postseason games.
"Our defensive ends can't get too far past the quarterback or he takes off and it gives him huge lanes," said Panthers defensive tackle Dwan Edwards, who took down Kaepernick for two of his three sacks this season. "It's important that everyone stays in their lanes and when someone does get out of their lane we have to cover that up quickly."
The Panthers understand containing Kaepernick a second time likely won't be easy, even for a defense that was second in the NFL with 301.2 yards and 15.1 points allowed per contest, while topping the league with 60 sacks. During the 49ers' current seven-game run, Kaepernick has averaged 231.7 passing yards, thrown 11 TDs with two INTs and averaged 6.7 yards per rush while posting a 101.7 passer rating.
"I expect the young man to come out and play well," said Ron Rivera, the once-embattled Carolina coach who will guide the Panthers to their first playoff appearance in five seasons after going 12-4 to win the NFC South.
"All you have to do is watch the way he has played down the stretch," Rivera added.
Kaepernick also will have a stronger supporting cast this time.
Crabtree, who missed the first meeting with the Panthers while recovering from a serious Achilles injury, has 28 receptions for 410 yards and three touchdowns in his last four postseason games. Davis, who left that contest early with a concussion, has 24 receptions for 583 yards with six TDs in six career postseason contests.
Frank Gore was held to 66 yards on 20 carries last weekend, but scored a TD for the fourth straight postseason game.
"It's a team game and it's going to take a little bit from everybody," Crabtree said. "I think we got those key players."
So do the Panthers, none more important than Newton.
After a sub-standard follow-up to his stellar 2011 rookie season, Newton bounced back in 2013 to set career highs in touchdown passes (24), completion percentage (61.7) and passer rating (88.8) while also rushing for 585 yards and six scores. He's helped the Panthers win 11 of 12, leading four game-winning drives during that span.
Now, he will try to push aside the hype of his first playoff experience to help Carolina end a two-game postseason slide. The Panthers are seeking their first playoff victory since a 29-21 win at Chicago on Jan. 15, 2006 in the divisional round.
"You don't want to be overthinking things," Newton said. "I have yet to experience a playoff game, but I know the atmosphere will be hectic to say the least."
Newton, however, must improve after Carolina's offense was held to 17 or fewer points in two of the past four games. He completed 57.1 percent of his passes for 330 yards with three TDs and two INTs in the last two, but beat New Orleans and Atlanta.
"I need to be better, not missing throws that I'm capable of making," said Newton, who went 16 of 32 for 169 yards with an interception at San Francisco (13-4) this season.
Newton hopes to have receiver Steve Smith back after he injured his left knee against the Saints and missed the regular-season finale against the Falcons. Though Smith has not caught more than six passes or recorded more than 69 receiving yards in a game in 2013, he has seven touchdowns in eight career postseason contests.
Smith said Friday that his knee feels "fine" and hopes to be ready to play Sunday.
"I will be all right. I should be OK," he said.
Smith caught six passes for 63 yards Nov. 10 against the 49ers, who have outscored their last seven opponents 182-114.
Carolina has posted a 200-84 scoring advantage while winning seven straight home games since a 12-7 season-opening loss to Seattle.
The Panthers last made the playoffs in the 2008 season, also finishing 12-4 to win the South and earn a first-round bye before losing 33-13 to Arizona. Taking the next step after a stellar regular season will again be the focus for Carolina.
"It is one of the goals you set for yourself and for your team," Rivera said. "We accomplished that first one (by winning the division) but there is a lot more left to go."
More from ESPN.com
Kaepernick sorry for insensitive flooding post
Colin Kaepernick, who has nearly 755,000 Twitter followers and 1.3 million followers on Instagram, deleted and apologized Tuesday for a post that trivialized deadly floods in the Houston area.
Bears cut McDonald after latest domestic arrest
The Chicago Bears released Ray McDonald on Monday after the defensive lineman was arrested earlier in the day on suspicion of domestic violence and child endangerment.
Recent Blog Posts
San Francisco 49ers
- Too soon to say 49ers' DL Arik Armstead headed to Bustville
- Maturity crucial for Kaepernick
- NFL Nation Buzz: Geno Smith, OTAs, 'Hard Knocks' and more
|Avg Points Allowed||15.0||23.0|
Team Averages & NFL Ranks
|TEAM OFFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|TEAM DEFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|Pass Yds Allowed||SF|
|Rush Yds Allowed||SF|
Head to Head Matchups (Since 2001)
|Carolina leads 4-3|
|Nov 10, 2013||SF 9, CAR 10|
|Oct 24, 2010||SF 20, @CAR 23|
|Dec 2, 2007||SF 14, @CAR 31|
|Nov 14, 2004||SF 27, CAR 37|
|Nov 18, 2001||SF 25, @CAR 22|
|Oct 7, 2001||SF 24, CAR 14|
Cam Newton is 24-15 in his career when his team rushes for at least 100 yards (.615). He is 1-8 (.111) when the Panthers post fewer than 100 rush yards.
Colin Kaepernick and Cam Newton have both seen added pressure on more than 38 percent of their dropbacks this season, ranking in the top four among qualified quarterbacks. But Kaepernick has had more success against the blitz, with 13 touchdown passes and the second-highest Total QBR against added pressure this season.[+]
Passing vs 5 or More Rushers This Season
Since Michael Crabtree made his season debut in Week 13, Colin Kaepernick has the third-highest Total QBR in the NFL and has posted a Total QBR of at least 65 in 5 of the 49ers' last 6 games.[+]
Both Cam Newton & Colin Kaepernick would love to get a do-over from their poor performances in their Week 10 matchup in San Francisco... While Kaepernick posted career worsts in passing yards, sacks, and Total QBR in the 10-9 loss, Newton was not much better... The Panthers' QB completed a season-low 50% of his passes with a Total QBR just under 20.[+]
All the discussion with the Panthers offense seems to be squarely on Newton, but it's Carolina's running game that could decide things. In the Panthers 6 playoffs wins, they've topped 100 rushing yards in each. In their 4 playoff losses, they haven't reached that 100-yard mark once.[+]
Panthers Postseason History
Carolina pressured Kaepernick on 5-of-8 dropbacks (4 under duress, 1 sack) on the opening drive. The Panthers sent at least five rushers on four dropbacks, getting pressure on all four (including the sack).
The 49ers defense has done its part, allowing 15 points per game and 303 yards per game in 2 postseason games. Their pass defense is allowing nearly 100 fewer passing yards per game compared with last postseason, aided by an improved pass rush:[+]
Steve Smith is the 16th player in NFL history with 10 postseason TD (8 receptions, 1 rush, 1 return).
Cam Newton finished the regular season with a league-worst 7.6 yards per attempt and 28.1 completion percentage (second worst) on throws at least 15 yards downfield. Newton started the game 4-for-4 on those throws before throwing a game-clinching interception targeting Greg Olsen downfield. Newton was 1-for-4 for 9 yards and both interceptions when under duress. Newton was sacked five times, a total he reached three times in the regular season (Carolina 0-3 in those games).[+]
Cam Newton Passing 15+ Yds Downfield, 2013
The Panthers were 10-13 (76.9%) on 4th down this season, the best conversion percentage in the NFC. This included 8-of-9 on 4th and 1 and 2-of-2 on 4th and goal. Cam Newton had converted 5 straight 4th-and-1 rushes...the last time he failed to convert in such situations was Week 2, 2012 vs the Saints.
The Panthers ran eight plays inside the San Francisco 10-yard line during the game and did not score a touchdown. The Panthers did not score after Ron Rivera elected to kick a field goal on 4th-and-goal from the 2-yard line with 3:41 left in the first half (a delay of game penalty pushed the ball back to the 7 before the kick).
Colin Kaepernick: 24 attempts at halftime, his most in any game of his career in 1st half, regular or postseason (previous high was 23)
Frank Gore had 30 yards on 10 rushes in the first three quarters (3.0 yards per rush), including 13 yards after contact. In the fourth quarter, Gore had 7 rushes for 54 yards (7.7 yards per rush), including a 39-yard rush that set up San Francisco's last field goal.
The Panthers have only trailed at halftime twice this season... They trailed the Saints by 15 (lost by 18)... And in Week 10 against the 49ers, they trailed 9-7 and won the game, 10-9.
Ahmad Brooks has 4.5 of the 49ers 9 sacks this postseason, tied for the most sacks by a 49ers player in a single postseason since sacks have kept officially since 1982. He had 0 sacks in his final 5 regular season games
Panthers: fall to 0-4 this season when allowing 21 points or more... 12-1 when allowing 20 points or fewer
The 49ers scored a TD on their 18th drive of the season against the Panthers defense (5th drive today, 13 in Week 10).
Vernon Davis now has 7 career postseason receiving touchdowns, 2nd-most in 49ers postseason history behind Jerry Rice (19). His 7 touchdowns are tied for the most by a tight end in postseason history[+]
The 49ers do not have a rushing first down this half... Week 12 this season against the Redskins was the only other game since the start of 2012 they didn't have a rushing first down at halftime.
Kaepernick has been under pressure (duress or sacked) on 10-of-25 dropbacks. His career high for a full game is 13 (twice).
Anquan Boldin caught 8-of-12 targets for 136 yards and seven of Kaepernick's 11 passing first downs. Kaepernick threw four total passes after halftime, all completions to Boldin. Boldin is no stranger to playoff success, averaging 5.5 catches, 92.3 yards and 4.7 first downs per playoff game since the start of last year's playoff run with the Ravens. He's averaged 4.8 catches for 67.8 yards and 3.5 first downs during the regular season since the start of 2012.[+]
Colin Kaepernick by Target, Sunday
49ers passers were pressured (sacked or under duress) on 11-of-26 first-half dropbacks Sunday (24 percent) as the 49ers dropped back to pass on 26-of-36 plays (72 percent). Taking a lead into halftime, the 49ers dropped back to pass only six times in the second half, none under duress. Kaepernick was 3-of-9 for 30 yards under duress Sunday, all in the first half. When not pressured, Kaepernick was 12-of-19 for 166 yards and a touchdown.[+]
49ers Play Calling Sunday
The 49ers picked up five first downs Sunday on penalties committed by the Panthers' defense, including three on third down. The five first downs via penalty were tied for the most allowed by the Panthers' defense this season (Week 11 vs Patriots).
Since 2000, three Heisman Trophy winning quarterbacks have made a playoff start. Two tore their ACL and the other has made just one start since his game. Cam Newton hoping things play out differently.[+]
Colin Kaepernick went 6 of 8 for 136 yards on passes more than 10 yards with none of those passes broken up. Kaepernick went 0 of 6 on those passes in Week 10 against the Panthers, including an interception and a dropped interception.[+]
ESPN Stats & Information