Final score: Panthers 10, 49ers 9
Even Sofia Vergara isn't perfect.
Okay maybe she is, but is it fair to suggest we regard the NFL in the same manner? It's curvy (check out the logo some time), it's got some physicality and everything it's in instantly looks better, even if it doesn't do anything.
But, but, but ... if there is an area the league has been lacking in, even if we are being nitpicky, it is defense. Quality defense. Yet, every once in awhile, fans get treated to some throwback football, slugfests that come down to who wants it more. And this type of game isn't solely reserved for Seahawks-49ers or Ravens-Steelers, even though one of those teams did play a large role in our 16th top game of 2013.
Enter Carolina at San Francisco, Week 10. This was an old-fashioned brawl, a contest tailor-made for which front seven could control the flow of the game possession after possession. Of all the games I took in last year, this sucker was played at perhaps the highest level ... at least defensively.
This wasn't a case of putrid offenses struggling, either. Not when you have Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman, Donte Whitner, Luke Kuechly, and that ridiculously talented Carolina defensive front wreaking serious havoc.
The final score was 10-9. The game featured one touchdown. The second half? A field goal, and even that was from a country mile out. Neither team even sniffed 300 yards of offense. And at the end of the day, it would be the Panthers who were the last men standing.
Each team tried a little "finesse" offense, throwing the football a total of 54 times. That, uh, worked. Or not. Panthers at 49ers saw less than 200 net passing yards ... COMBINED.
Please. Neither defense was giving its opponent an inch, and that's precisely what made this a special offering from the 2013 season. And in the end, it would be the Panthers D and not the name brand 49ers defense that would suffocate routes, make crisp tackles, and lock down their side of the field in the second half.
So, forgive me if I like a 10-9 knuckleball of a game more than most. Maybe I just miss the 1985 Bears, 1986 Giants, and some Charles Haley devastation.
That's still football.
The Carolina secondary gets this nod. Yep, the whole darn group. Colin Kaepernick completed just half of his 22 passes while racking up a grand total of 91 passing yards. Ugh. Some of Carolina's six sacks were because the coverage was making Kaepernick hold the ball. And then there was this clutch pick by Drayton Florence.
Hate to say it (I don't, really), but Graham Gano's second half field goal was the most important sequence in the entire afternoon. First off, Gano's 53-yard make represented the only scoring in the second half and the deciding points.
Second, it was from 53 on grass. That's a tough kick, especially at Candlestick Park, which can be a slick track. Remember, the field is technically below sea level.
Oh, Donte. Boy if Donte Whitner could have jussssst held onto this ball the 49ers would have had an incredible chance to win this football game with a Phil Dawson kick.
You don't see many football games in the NFL any more where neither team scores more than 10 points. Take a look at the stat board to see what is becoming rarer than Patrick Willis' body fat.
There was a lot of fussing about the Panthers front office decisions in 2012 regarding the running back position. The total value of the contracts for Jonathan Stewart, Mike Tolbert, and DeAngelo Williams was approximately 90 million dollars. That's a ton, no question. Yet, a huge part of the Panthers success in both this game and the 2013 season was a ground attack that was nearly a top-10 unit in the NFL. They rushed for over 2,000 yards in 2013 (with a little help from Cam Newton, of course).
The Panthers road win in San Francisco was huge for that team's confidence, as was beating what was considered the NFC's elite. Throw in the fact that they almost beat Seattle in Week 1, and Ron Rivera's club was showing the league that it was for real.
That said, the 49ers would lose only one more game the remainder of the regular season (at New Orleans, our 18th top game of 2013), and even that loss probably should have gone the other way. When the 49ers came to Carolina to face off in the divisional round, Kaepernick made the plays he failed to make in this loss, while Vic Fangio's defense frustrated Cam Newton repeatedly in a rather anticlimactic second half.
NFL Network will feature games No. 10 through No. 1 in an all-day marathon from 6 a.m. ET to 10 p.m. ET on Sunday, July 6.
-- by Elliot Harrison. Follow Elliot on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.