Cam Newton to Kelvin Benjamin was a quiet combination in the first half. Then the second half started.
After catching two Newton passes for 26 yards before halftime, Benjamin finished with seven catches for 108 yards and two touchdowns as Carolina beat the 49ers 43-27 victory at Bank of America Stadium.
“He’s special,” Newton said of Benjamin. “Makes my life extremely easy. Helps me a lot.”
Newton, who seemed to focus on Benjamin and tight end Greg Olsen in the season opener, spread the ball around more effectively in Week 2. Greg Olsen had a 78-yard touchdown catch, and Devin Funchess caught a fourth-quarter scoring pass to put the game away.
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But Carolina needed all of that to overcome a sloppy stretch of the fourth quarter that saw the Panthers give up 17 points, including touchdowns on consecutive offensive plays, that cut their lead to a touchdown.
But Newton went to Benjamin again, for a 25-yard gain on third and 10 that kept a Panthers drive alive. That led to Graham Gano’s 49-yard field goal, which pushed the lead back to 10 with 4:08 to play.
Luke Kuechly’s interception of Blaine Gabbert led to the Funchess touchdown that made the lead comfortable again.
Three who mattered
Cam Newton: Newton threw for 353 yards and four touchdowns. He overcame a fumble and an interception that led to 10 San Francisco points.
Shaq Thompson: His scoop and score from 9 yards out on a Carlos Hyde fumble caused by Charles Johnson gave the Panthers a 7-3 lead.
James Bradberry: He gave up Torrey Smith’s touchdown catch, but it looked like he might have expected safety help. Bradberry played well overall and had a late interception, the rookie’s first in the NFL.
▪ After a hold on the opening kickoff pushed the Panthers back to their 9, and Newton’s first pass was tipped by linebacker NaVorro Bowman and intercepted by safety Antoine Bethea. With a short field, the 49ers were held to a 29-yard Phil Dawson field goal. Not an ideal start.
▪ Newton’s pass to Ginn on the next series, an absolute dime, was called back on review by half of Ginn’s left foot. That took it from a season highlight play to an eventual Panthers punt.
▪ The scrum between kids for Olsen’s touchdown ball was entertaining. Unclear who won.
▪ “Sloppy” is the nice way to describe the first half. Still, Panthers led 17-10, aided by the fact that the 49ers are not very good.
▪ Newton turned an amazing escape into a fumble that led to a 49ers field goal that made it 31-13early in the fourth quarter. A negative play, but an exciting one.
▪ Ted Ginn Jr.’s mishandling of a San Francisco kickoff gave the 49ers the ball right back, at the Carolina 1. Blaine Gabbert scored on the next play, and the extra point cut the Panthers lead to 11. So once the lead reached 31-10, the sloppy returned.
▪ Jonathan Stewart left with a hamstring injury after a first-quarter gang tackle and did not return. Rivera didn’t have an update after the game.
▪ San Francisco coach Chip Kelly called timeout before Graham Gano’s field goal at the end of the first half. No ice this time, Gano was good from 39.
▪ Panthers offensive guard Trai Turner missed most of a second-half series while his right ankle was taped but returned afterward.
▪ After Stewart’s exit, Fozzy Whittaker took over as the main ballcarrier, finishing with 100 yards on 16 carries. He also caught three passes for 31 yards, but also lost a fumble.
▪ The Panthers turned the ball over four times to three for the 49ers.
They said it
“Anytime you can win in the NFL it’s a good thing, but we’ve got a lot of things we need to clean up.” – Rivera.
“We had an opportunity to put it way, we put it away and we let them back. That just can’t happen.” – Newton
“The protection as a whole was extremely solid, and that happens with great tempo. We focused in practice on getting back to cadence, and that helps a lot.” – Newton
“I thought Cam’s effort was outstanding, with the exception that he knows he needs to protect the football.” – Rivera.
“That’s a good question.” – Whittaker, on when his last 100-yard rushing game was. He settled on high school, in Texas.
Michael Persinger: 704-358-5132, @mikepersinger