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49ers Defense Stands Strong in Carolina Struggle

Posted Jan 12, 2014

Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman stood the tallest, while Donte Whitner caught the game-sealing interception.

Fitting that Donte Whitner’s fourth-quarter interception ended Sunday’s NFC Divisional playoff on Sunday in Carolina.

Because his wise words in the lockeroom started it.

“Every man, man up,” Jim Harbaugh remembered the veteran safety telling teammates before kickoff.

After the No. 5 seed 49ers 23-10 victory over the No. 2 seed Panthers, it was clear that every member of the defense had done just that.

GALLERY: 49ers-Panthers in Pictures

Patrick Willis’ first career postseason interception on a deflected Cam Newton pass ended the Panthers first offensive series.

NaVorro Bowman disrupted another Carolina drive later with a Superman-like spin move and sack, one of five for the team.

In between, there were takedowns of Newton by the another linebacker, Ahmad Brooks, and very little room for Carolina to maneuver offensively.

In fact, San Francisco held its host to 10 first-half points and none in the second.

“They gave us a lot of un-scouted looks in the first half,” Whitner said on FOX’s postgame coverage. “They had two weeks to prepare for us, so we knew we were going to see some things we hadn’t seen on film. We had to go back to playing fundamental football and knowing what our assignment is.

“That’s why we pitched a shutout.”

Willis in Bowman stood tallest in the effort.

Running back Frank Gore, who has seen both grow from rookies to stars, said he wanted "to show the world" that the 49ers – not the Panthers, with their Luke Kuechly-Thomas Davis combo up the middle – boasted the best linebackers “in the league.”

The ‘backers took care of this message themselves. Willis and Bowman each recorded a game-high 11 tackles, while the former had his interception and the latter recorded his sack.

They had their help.

Brooks contributed six tackles, including a postseason career high 2.5 sacks of Newton. Another outside ‘backer, Dan Skuta, was credited with another.

Plus, the front seven as a whole limited the Panthers to 93 yards in the ground game, 39 of which credited to running backs and wide receivers.

The 49ers ability to control the line of scrimmage was demonstrated on two goal-line stands.

Newton and Co. had seven plays at the goal-line in the first half and turned them into one Graham Gano field goal. They scored their one touchdown on a 31-yard pass to veteran Steve Smith in the second quarter.

As Willis revealed, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio had told the unit during team meetings Saturday night that he needed their best effort of the season on Sunday.

Fangio got one of their best.

“We pride on keeping teams out of the end zone,” Bowman told reporters postgame. “If we can hold them up at the goal line four downs in a row, that lets them know that we’re here to play.”

Added Willis: "I'm proud."

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