Reporter Joseph Person grades the Carolina Panthers’ performance against the 49ers.
C+ QUARTERBACK : Cam Newton was a little off, sailing throws high or out of his receiver’s reach. Newton was 16-of-32 passing for 169 yards and an interception, and finished with a 52.7 quarterback rating, his second-lowest of the season. But he made a couple of big throws to convert third downs, including one to Steve Smith with 2:12 left.
B RUNNING BACKS : The backs didn’t do a lot, but they did enough. DeAngelo Williams scored the game’s only touchdown on a 27-yard run in which he eluded two tacklers. Mike Tolbert had a couple of receptions, including a 17-yarder, and recovered Jonathan Stewart’s fumble in the final minutes.
C+ RECEIVERS : Smith and Brandon LaFell dropped a couple of passes, although both made some critical catches as well. Smith was targeted 11 times, and came down with six catches for 63 yards. LaFell added four catches for 48 yards, and tight end Greg Olsen had a season-low one reception.
C OFFENSIVE LINE : Right guard Nate Chandler struggled in pass protection in his first career start. Chandler, who was a defensive lineman last season, factored in two of the 49ers’ four sacks of Newton. But it was a gritty performance overall by the line against San Francisco’s physical 3-4 defense.
B+ DEFENSIVE LINE : Ends Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy combined for 2.5 of the Panthers’ six sacks. Johnson had a good all-around game with five tackles (four solo), two tackles for loss and two quarterback pressures. Defensive tackle Dwan Edwards chipped in with his first sack of the season.
A LINEBACKERS : Middle linebacker Luke Kuechly led all tacklers with 11 stops, all of them solo tackles, and added a sack. Rookie A.J. Klein, who started in place of the injured Chase Blackburn, had five tackles and a sack, which went for a 14-yard loss. Blackburn left the game after aggravating his foot injury and did not return.
B DEFENSIVE BACKS : Safety Mike Mitchell had four tackles and dropped Colin Kaepernick for a big loss on a blitz, then celebrated by mocking Kaepernick’s end zone celebration. Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn dropped a sure interception, but tackled well and had a pass breakup. Corner Drayton Florence had two pass breakups and the game-sealing interception.
B SPECIAL TEAMS : Graham Gano finally missed a field goal, but came back to drill a 53-yarder in the fourth quarter that turned out to be the game-winner. Ted Ginn Jr. averaged 21.7 yards on three punt returns against his former team, including a 25-yarder that set up Gano’s decisive kick. Colin Jones, another ex-49er, downed a Brad Nortman punt at the San Francisco 1 late in the game.
A COACHING : Ron Rivera won the biggest game of his tenure, improving to 3-14 in games decided by a touchdown or less. Offensive coordinator Mike Shula stuck with the running game on a day when yards were at a premium. And defensive coordinator Sean McDermott put Kaepernick in a lot of difficult third-and-long situations.