SAN FRANCISCO -- The Carolina Panthers can now say they have that signature win everybody has been waiting to see: on the road, against the reigning NFC champions, in November.
While facing one of the NFL's brightest young quarterbacks, to boot.
So much for the idea that Carolina hadn't beaten any team of consequence thus far.
"I don't think it really bothers us, it gives us the opportunity to step up to the challenge. We did," said wide receiver Steve Smith, who had six receptions. "A win like this can boost us, a win like this can continue to give us life throughout the season, and make us feel like we're working for something, and we are."
DeAngelo Williams broke two tackles for a 27-yard touchdown run late in the first half that pulled Carolina within 9-7. Gano missed wide left on a 48-yard field goal in the third period, but came through later.
San Francisco (6-3) got the ball back with 5:25 left at its 1, then again with 1:02 to go.
This was hardly the highly touted showdown between 2011 No. 1 overall pick Newton and Kaepernick, the sixth quarterback drafted that year, in the second round. They roomed together during the scouting combine.
For Newton, the numbers hardly mattered.
"This game is a maturity jump for us, because in the past what I've been a part of, we've been somewhat uncertain of how we will turn out in these types of games," Newton said. "We needed that type of game, just to be in a dog fight, in somewhat of a barnburner, to show what type of team this really is."
Kaepernick went 11 for 22 for 91 yards with an interception and was sacked six times for a 42.0 passer rating. Newton was only slightly better, going 16 of 32 for 169 yards, an interception and four sacks for a 52.7 rating.
For two teams that have been putting up points at a prolific pace for the past month, the defenses dictated this one.
"As the game went on, it got more and more intense," Smith said.
More than losing the game, the 49ers' losses of Davis and Reid could be troublesome for the reigning NFC champions as they hit the road next week for New Orleans, then go to Washington.
"We'll do what we do, bounce back, regroup, refit and reorganize and come back this week," coach Jim Harbaugh said.
Davis didn't return after sustaining a concussion in the second quarter, then Reid went down on a helmet-to-helmet hit on Mike Tolbert in the third. Earlier, Reid recovered a fumble to give him five takeaways in an already-stellar rookie season that also includes three interceptions.
Dawson put San Francisco ahead on a 52-yard field goal on the team's opening drive, then kicked second-quarter field goals of 43 and 25 yards.
But Kaepernick could never get his team in the end zone in its first game since a bye on the heels of a win over Jacksonville in London.
Wide receiver Mario Manningham started and had three catches in his season debut, nearly 11 months after a serious left knee injury that required surgery.
Carolina got going after managing only minus-7 yards passing and 12 total yards in the first quarter. The Panthers finished with 250 total yards.
Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press