The 49ers’ return to Levi’s Stadium was billed as a matchup of two top defenses. What it produced was a one-sided affair with a bruised and battered Panthers squad departing with its tail between its legs.
Arguably two of the best defensive lines in the NFL faced off Sunday. And while Tevin Coleman and the San Francisco offense had its way all afternoon, Kyle Allen and the Panthers ( 4-3) could offer no answer to Nick Bosa‘s swarming defense. The end result was this season’s most impressive all-around performance for the 49ers (7-0), and a 51-13 thrashing.
An energetic crowd in Santa Clara came ready to cheer on its undefeated 49ers, who were dawning their 1994 throwback jerseys. In addition to the fresh new look, Sunday was National Tight Ends Day, and George Kittle celebrated appropriately hauling in six passes for 86 yards and spending much of the day celebrating his team’s dominance.
The Panthers won the coin toss, and deferred, giving the 49ers offense first crack at scoring.
The newest 49er, Emmanuel Sanders, caught a pass on his very first drive with the team, a four-yard sideline catch. Jimmy Garoppolo and the offense moved the ball well, getting into the red zone after eight plays. Passes to Sanders and Kittle, paired with big runs by Coleman and Matt Breida set up the second-down pass to Sanders for the touchdown six minutes in.
Sanders had a whirlwind of a week after being traded from the Denver Broncos earlier in the week. After his new team scored more than 50 points Sunday, Sanders had already known the fit with the 49ers was a perfect match:
“All week, the energy has been so positive here. This locker room is just amazing with a great group of players, and great personalities around here. I showed up today expecting the same results in personality. I will never forget going out into the tunnel with these guys. Everybody was laughing and smiling, i was like, ‘man, this is football, this is fun.’ I am blessed to be here.”
Immediately following the 49ers opening-drive touchdown, the defense forced a three-and-out from Allen and the Panthers offense, with Bosa getting the third-down sack, his first of the day.
A Garoppolo interception on the ensuing drive gave the Panthers the ball in 49ers territory. San Francisco held strong, allowing just a field goal thanks in large part to another third-down sack, this one from Arik Armstead.
The 49ers offense was clicking again on its third drive. A 12-yard pass to Kittle was followed by a huge gain of 29 yards, then a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty on the Panthers. The 49ers had the ball at the Carolina 18-yard line. Two plays later, a touchdown pass to Kittle was called back because of a downfield-blocking penalty on Deebo Samuel. On the very next play from the Panthers 19-yard line, Coleman ran it up the middle for the score, giving the 49ers an early 14-3 lead.
A guy named Emmanuel made a big play in the first couple of minutes of the second quarter. No, not the new Emmanuel, the other Emmanuel. Second-year cornerback Emmanuel Moseley intercepted an Allen pass, setting the 49ers offense up a 49ers drive in Panthers territory.
A 17-yard run by Breida was followed by a 10-yard touchdown pass to Coleman. The 49ers forced a turnover (Allen’s first career interception) and immediately took advantage of it, extending their lead to 21-3.
Both D.J. Jones and Armstead recorded sacks in the second quarter. As the first half was coming to a close, the 49ers defense had sacked Allen four times.
With just over three minutes remaining in the half, the 49ers got the ball back for their last drive of the half. A couple of short runs from Breida, followed by a quick pass over the middle set up the 49ers at midfield with two minutes left. The very next play, Coleman busted the game wide open, running 48 yards to the house. Heading into half time, Coleman has 5 carries for 91 yards and 3 touchdowns. The Panthers got the ball back with just under two minutes left, down 27-3.
“From the first time that Tevin came into the building, just watching him run with the ball and how he reads it, how he gets downhill, him taking the edge and then getting vertical is one of the most impressive things I’ve ever seen. And he does it with zero regard for his body, which is pretty amazing for a running back. He gets downhill so fast, so I just love watching him play…. I’m just happy for him … because he grinds every single day and we’re just happy we could help him do that.”
Carolina could do nothing with the late opportunity, though. Instead, Bosa got to Allen two more times Heading into half time, the 49ers had sacked Allen six times, three of which coming from Bosa.
Carolina’s offense went three-and-out on the first drive of the second half. The 49ers took over and didn’t do much better. A 49ers drive that began on their own two-yard line went backwards, resulting in a Panthers safety, and a 27-5 score.
The 49ers held a very commanding lead, while a bit of that momentum would shift Carolina’s way to begin the 3rd quarter. Following the safety, the Panthers resulting drive ended in a McCaffrey 40-yard touchdown run. The Panthers would go for two and were successful, making the score 27-13.
All of a sudden, the 49ers 24-point lead heading into half time was trimmed to a 14-point lead, which meant the offense couldn’t get complacent. The following 49ers’ drive began with a Samuel end-around for nine yards. Two plays later, Kittle busted through the Panthers secondary for a gain of 25 yards into Panthers territory. A third-down pass to Samuel led to a Samuel run up the middle for 20 yards. A Samuel-riddled drive gave the 49ers a 34-13 lead.
The Panthers next drive would go nowhere, and end in an interception by Richard Sherman, giving his offense the ball at the Panthers 10-yard line.
Coleman scored for the fourth time and that sealed it, pushing the 49ers lead to 41-13 heading into the 4th quarter.
Bosa once again came free, and Allen, perhaps tired of climbing out from under Bosa, attempted to quickly flick the ball away. It nestled neatly into Bosa’s arms as the big defensive end took off toward the endzone. By the time Allen chased down Bosa, the rookie had found his way back into the red zone.
Kyle Shanahan gave his thoughts post-game about the spot the 49ers are in, and if the momentum is continuing to build.
“The more games you win, the more confidence guys get. Just like the more games you lose in a row, the less confident you get. Both can be a little bit contagious to the team and i think our guys, we’ve won a lot of different ways, been in a lot of different types of games and i think our guys, the more you do that, the more you can reassure yourself that you can pull out certain types of wins.”
Handling the Panthers with ease, the now 7-0 49ers will travel to Arizona for their first matchup with the Cardinals (3-4-1) and rookie quarterback Kyler Murray. A Thursday night prime-time game will feature the first and last place teams in the NFC West.
Following Sunday’s game, Panthers defensive end Bruce Irvin had some comments about the 49ers defensive line that just dominated the Panthers. 49ers rookie defensive end Nick Bosa replied.
With how dominant Bosa has been this season, there has been plenty of talk surrounding a potential Rookie Of The Year award. Richard Sherman took the chatter to another level, saying that the end should be in the Defensive Player of the Year conversation. … Matt Breida injured his ankle in Sunday’s game and did not return. Kyle Shanahan gave an update on Breida.
“I know he was trying to go back in. We probably would have given him a chance if the score wasn’t what it was like and if we didn’t have to play Thursday. We’ll see, you never know after the game and how he comes back tomorrow. Hopefuly he’ll be alright by Thursday.”