The Carolina Panthers and San Francisco 49ers squared off in the NFC Divisional Playoffs in what turned out to be a physical and chippy back-and-forth for four quarters. At the end of the day, San Francisco made the plays to pull away a bit and win the game 23-10 as Carolina seemed to crumble under the pressure due to frustration, particularly on defense, which undercut any opportunity they had to mount a rally.
Three times in the game, the Carolina defense was called for personal fouls that extended drives for San Francisco, highlighted by a an attempted punch after a third-down stop that allowed the 49ers to run out the clock to end the game. The team finished the game getting called for seven penalties for 68 yards against San Francisco’s four penalties for 35 yards, as mental lapses and frustration sabotaged the Panthers down the stretch.
Their performance in the playoffs is a disappointing way for their season to end after turning things around following a 1-3 start to the season. The young Carolina roster showed incredible maturity in winning the NFC South and earning the No. 2 seed in the NFC Playoffs this season. That all seemed to go out the window, however, as San Francisco was able to get under the skin of the Panthers and bait them into making foolish mistakes and costly penalties.
For Cam Newton and the Panthers to take the next step as a team in 2014 and beyond, they will need to learn to keep their heads about them in tough situations like the playoffs. Games like these against a physical team like San Francisco can be an absolute pressure cooker and test the mental toughness of a team. This time around, the Panthers broke down under that pressure. Can they fix that breakdown for next year?