CHARLOTTE – Being one day removed from the Panthers' worst defeat of the season doesn't make the 51-13 beatdown look or feel any better, but it has given head coach Ron Rivera a bit more clarity on what it was that went so wrong.
"We're going to learn from what happened. You break tape down, you look at some of the things that happened," Rivera said. "It goes back to making plays or not making plays. This game came down to about five plays on our defense that we typically have handled. You can survive one or two, but you can't survive four or five explosive plays."
So, what exactly was it that led to the 49ers rolling to 232 rushing yards and 51 points? For starters, San Francisco's misdirection caused the defense to struggle filling its gap assignments, which led to wide open holes for 49ers running back Tevin Coleman.
"We played behind the ball," Rivera said. "To me, that's very disappointing. It's going to be hard against an outside zone team. The front is going to stretch and you've got to be able to work to your crease. You've got to bust your hump to get out there. If you don't, the easy way out is to jump behind the play. If you jump behind the play, you better make it. If you don't there is nobody in that gap. We're a gap accountable defense."
On Coleman's first touchdown run, the running back cut through a hole five yards away from the nearest Panthers defender before dashing 19 yards to the end zone. Later, on Coleman's third touchdown, three Panthers ended up in the same hole, opening up a 48-yard path to the end zone.
"It happened to several different players and that's the disappointment," Rivera said. "We paid the price."
The problems on defense weren't just up front, though. Rivera said the defense struggled with what he called "dirty eyes," meaning the secondary often wasn't looking where it should have been.
"There were a couple routes where we watched and we don't have our eyes focused where they're supposed to be," Rivera said. "The guy runs a dig route on us and catches one for eight yards. If I've got my eyes on my guy and he breaks out, I've got a chance to intercept the ball like Luke does."
Rivera made sure not to put all the blame on the defense, pointing out that the offense made plenty of mistakes, too. Running back Christian McCaffrey found success in the ground game, rushing for 117 yards on 14 carries, but it wasn't enough to overcome three interceptions and seven sacks.
Quarterback Kyle Allen, who had been praised for his pocket poise during his first four starts this season, became rattled by the 49ers' pass rush. Allen's inexperience began to show through, as the second-year quarterback tried to force throws into nonexistent windows.
"Probably the biggest thing is he's got to be patient," Rivera said of Allen. "He had a little bit more time. He probably anticipated a little bit too much. He needed at times to take what they gave him."
Sunday marked the first major deficit Allen has faced in his career, and after the game, Rivera acknowledged that appeared to have affected some of his decision making.
"He tried to do more than he needed to," Rivera said "We saw how very cool and calm he'd been and for the most part we saw him taking the opportunity he had in front of him. He's a guy when he stays within his abilities, he can help us a lot."
If there's any silver lining in Sunday's film, Rivera said that it gave the Panthers plenty of film to study – only it shows them what not to do.
"We all said this is good teaching tape," Rivera said. "The unfortunate part is it's a bunch of negative plays, but we will learn from it."