The Big Headline
The Panthers knew Sunday would be their biggest test yet, and the 49ers lived up to their reputation.
San Francisco jumped out to a quick 7-0 lead, but the Panthers bounced back with an interception by linebacker Luke Kuechly and a field goal. But then things fell apart.
The combination of the 49ers defense's relentless pass rush and the offense's explosive misdirection overwhelmed the Panthers, and led to Carolina's worst loss of the season, falling 51-13.
The Panthers defense struggled to identify where the ball was headed, with the 49ers' never-ending fake handoffs and motions opening up running lanes left and right. On the other side of the ball, the offense was suffocated by a 49ers pass rush that recorded a dominating seven sacks.
49ers' screens and misdirection wreak havoc
Early in the week Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said the key to stopping the 49ers offense was playing the "final formation" and not getting caught up in the shifts and motions.
Clearly, that's easier said than done.
The 49ers misdirection was no joke. Nearly every offensive play featured some sort of jet sweep or end-around motion, and the Panthers D couldn't seem to figure out where the ball was going to end up. If it wasn't a counter or handoff, then 49ers' quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was connecting with his receivers on a number of screen passes.
49ers running back Tevin Coleman ended up being the greatest beneficiary of the misdirection, scoring two rushing touchdowns another through the air in the first half alone. On Coleman's first touchdown, an end around motion confused the Panthers defense enough to open up the middle of the field for a 19-yard dash to the end zone. A slip screen sprung Coleman loose for a 10-yard touchdown reception early in the second quarter, before his 48-yard sprint later in the quarter.
Coleman added a fourth touchdown late in the third quarter.
With the exception Kuechly's early interception and edge rusher Bruce Irvin's third-quarter safety, there weren't many bright spots on the defense.
The turning points
The game was on the brink of getting out of hand early in the second quarter, with the Panthers already trailing the 49ers 21-3. Then the Panthers' offense showed signs of life.
Running back Christian McCaffrey rounded the corner and shot down the sideline for a 43-yard gain, all the way to the 49ers 4-yard line. Only it didn't count, because right guard Trai Turner was called for a holding penalty, bringing the ball back into Carolina territory. Two plays later quarterback Kyle Allen was sacked for a 10-yard loss, followed by a delay of game penalty to set up third-and-30.
Talk about a momentum swing.
Then, it looked like the Panthers had another shot at making the game competitive. After Irvin's safety, McCaffrey sprinted his way to a 40-yard touchdown to bring things to a two-score ball game at 27-13.
It was the most momentum the Panthers had all day, but it quickly screeched to a halt once the 49ers offense took the field again. San Francisco marched right down the field to extend its lead to 34-13 and end any chance of a comeback.
Offensive line struggles to keep Allen upright
The Panthers have been on the other side of this story quite a bit this season the way their own defensive line has played.
The 49ers were the ones racking up the sacks on Sunday, though.
San Francisco finished the game with seven sacks, led by defensive end Nick Bosa's three. The seven sacks allowed marked a season high for the Panthers.
The 49ers weren't just taking down the quarterback, but they were doing it at critical times. Of the seven sacks, four of them came on third down – shutting down drive after drive.
When the quarterback is under as much pressure as Allen was on Sunday, it's bound to lead to mistakes. After five career starts without throwing an interception, Allen's streak finally came to an end, and in a big way.
Allen's first interception came early in the second quarter when 49ers cornerback Emmanuel Moseley picked off a pass intended for wide receiver Curtis Samuel. Late in the third quarter, Allen threw interceptions on back-to-back drives, getting picked off by cornerback Richard Sherman and Bosa.
The 49ers were able to capitalize on Allen's turnovers, too, turning the picks into 17 points.
View photos from Week 8 as Carolina takes on San Francisco.