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Panthers vs. 49ers: Five plays that mattered

1. Munnerlyn’s dropped interception

The score: Scoreless, 13:06 left in first quarter.

The situation: Niners ball, first-and-10 at the San Francisco 42.

The play: Niners quarterback Colin Kaepernick threw right for receiver Anquan Boldin. Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn made a nice read and broke in front of Boldin, but dropped the sure interception.

Why it mattered: The Panthers missed a chance to grab momentum on the Niners’ first drive. Instead, San Francisco maintained possession and took a 3-0 lead on Phil Dawson’s 53-yard field goal, the first time the Panthers have trailed in the first quarter this season.

2. Florence’s inadvertent kick/fumble

The score: Niners 3, Panthers 0, 28 seconds left in first quarter.

The situation: Niners ball, fourth-and-4 at the San Francisco 30.

The play: The Panthers’ Jordan Senn came free off the edge and partially blocked Andy Lee’s punt. The ball hit Carolina cornerback Drayton Florence’s leg, and Florence tried unsuccessfully to scoop it. The Niners’ Eric Reid recovered the fumble at the Carolina 41.

Why it mattered: The 49ers needed just five plays after the fumble recovery to pad their lead to 6-0 on Dawson’s second field goal.

3. Newton’s third-down strike to LaFell

The score: Niners 9, Panthers 0, 4:45 left in second quarter.

The situation: Panthers ball, third-and-7 at the Carolina 23.

The play: After San Francisco turned a Cam Newton interception into a field goal and 9-point lead, the Panthers were in danger of going three-and-out on their subsequent possession. But Newton fired across the middle to Brandon LaFell for a 17-yard gain, eclipsing Newton’s total passing yardage (13) up to that point.

Why it mattered: The conversion seemed to jump-start the Panthers, who drove 80 yards for the game’s first touchdown – a 27-yard run by DeAngelo Williams, who broke two tackles to pull the Panthers to 9-7.

4. Ginn’s punt return

The score: Niners 9, Panthers 7, 13:47 left in fourth quarter.

The situation: Niners ball, fourth-and-29 at the San Francisco 25.

The play: Ted Ginn Jr. fielded Lee’s low, 44-yard punt and found a seam up the middle, darting 25 yards to the Niners’ 44. Ginn, the former 49er, celebrated by looking toward the San Francisco bench and spinning the ball.

Why it mattered: The Panthers gained only 9 yards after Ginn’s return, but they gained enough. Seven plays later, Graham Gano booted a 53-yard field goal to give the Panthers their first lead at 10-9.

5. Smith’s big conversion

The score: Panthers 10, Niners 9, 2:18 left in fourth quarter.

The situation: Panthers ball, third-and-8 at the Carolina 34.

The play: Newton stood in the pocket and threw toward the left sideline for Steve Smith, who beat cornerback Tarell Brown on an out route and pulled in Newton’s pass for a 9-yard gain.

Why it mattered: The conversion forced the 49ers to use their final timeout and allowed the Panthers to take another minute and 16 seconds off the clock before giving the ball to San Francisco at its 20.

Joseph Person

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