Niners outwit Panthers with second-half adjustments


San Francisco's convincing 23-10 divisional round playoff win over the Carolina Panthers made it clear that the more talented, enduring and battle-tested team is moving on to face Seattle in the NFC title game.

On NFL Network
"NFL Replay" will re-air the two 49ers- Seahawks matchups from the 2013 regular season:

The Seahawks' 29-3 win over the 49ers from Week 2 will air on Tuesday, Jan. 14 at 3 p.m. ET. and at 10:30 p.m. ET.

The 49ers' 19-17 win over the Seahawks from Week 14 will air on Tuesday, Jan. 14 at 4:30 p.m. ET. and Wednesday, Jan. 15 at 12 a.m. ET.

» Can't wait? Watch it now on Game Rewind
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The difference on Sunday was a rash of second-half adjustments that showed what the 49ers have been for three seasons under Jim Harbaugh: The conference's best-coached team.

Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio completely outmaneuvered Panthers play-caller Mike Shula over the final 30 minutes. After accounting for just one sack and quarterback hit on Cam Newton over the first two quarters, San Francisco drove Carolina's passer crazy down the stretch.

Four second-half sacks and eight hits on Newton were the product of a talented defense that settled in and picked on a young Panthers team making its first postseason appearance in half a decade.

The 49ers don't run an exotic scheme, but what they do, they do well because of Fangio's leadership and experience in the crucible of January games. After Newton completed 8 of 10 passes at 13.6 yards per attempt over the first two quarters, Cam and the Panthers were badgered and shut out the rest of the way.

San Francisco's offense made adjustments of their own. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick threw 24 passes over the first two quarters, but tossed just four in the second half as play-caller Greg Roman attacked Carolina with a punishing, clock-chewing ground game.

The choice to patiently grind away at Carolina directly led to Frank Gore's 39-yard, back-breaking blast into sunlight on a third-and-short scenario for the 49ers in the final quarter. That big chunk of yardage triggered a clock-chewing drive that lifted San Francisco to a 13-point lead and all but stuck a fork in the Panthers.

"That was huge," Harbaugh told reporters after the win. "It was a time in the game where we were trying to run clock. To pop it in those conditions is huge. Frank's got a way of doing that."

Beating the 49ers takes more than talent. The task requires challengers to outsmart two of the league's premier coordinators. Pulling that off twice in one season was too tall an order for the Carolina Panthers.

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