The 49ers took control of the second half against the Panthers in a 23-10 win on Sunday afternoon. Here are the grades for the defense and special teams:
Defensive Line: A
Strong defensive stands on the goal line and owning the line of scrimmage is what helped the defense win this game. I thought this was an impressive game from Ray McDonald in particular as he was double teamed several times to free up space for linebackers. The Panthers running game was also non-existent.
The pass rush was great this game in comparison to last week where were coverage sacks. I thought Aldon Smith had good pressure despite not tackling the quarterback. He gets credit for the first interception which was caught by Patrick Willis. NaVorro Bowman was all over the place and continued to befuddle the Panthers offense with his tackling, coverage and even occasional blitzing. The back-to-back sacks sequence by Bowman and Ahmad Brooks killed any hope of a comeback by Carolina.
They gave up yardage to Steve Smith in particular, but they were great throughout the game in bending and not breaking. Perrish Cox was initially picked on, but Tarell Brown and Tramaine Brock both played well and safety help came when needed. It was a perfect throw by Cam Newton to Smith, which was the only touchdown and big play allowed by this unit until garbage time.
Special Teams: A
The only negative thing on special teams was when the coverage unit gave up a 24-yard punt return by Ted Ginn Jr. to setup the touchdown pass to Steve Smith. Otherwise, this was a great day for special teams as a whole. Phil Dawson was perfect as he made all three field goal attempts. All kickoffs resulted in touchbacks while on the lighter side, Andy Lee couldn't execute a throw off a fake punt.
There were only a few mistakes in the first half, but it was a valiant performance by Vic Fangio and his staff on solving the Panthers offense. Two goal line stands and a goose egg in the second half signifies how valuable the defense has been all season. On what could have been a scoring drive that took eight minutes off the clock, Fangio blitzed and it worked where Newton was sacked two times in a row. Even late in the game, the defense wasn't soft until it was truly garbage time. The 49ers will always be in every game with the defense continuing to shine.
For grades on the 49ers offense, click here.