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49ers Defense Strong in Defeat to Panthers

Posted Nov 10, 2013

Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman and the rest of the unit performed well on Sunday, but their play couldn't make up for their offense's struggles.

The Vic Fangio-orchestrated 49ers defense has a goal every week, according to Patrick Willis.

Yield 17 points or less. Not a point more.

“We reached that goal,” San Francisco’s All-Pro inside linebacker said.

What the unit couldn’t snag was a win.

The 49ers dropped their first game over their last six despite limiting Cam Newton and the high-powered Carolina Panthers offense in a 10-9 struggle on Sunday afternoon at Candlestick Park.

PHOTOS: 49ers vs. Panthers

Even considering the losses of safety Eric Reid (concussion) and defensive tackle Ray McDonald (ankle), the unit’s defensive stars were many. Willis recorded a team-high eight tackles, including his first sack of 2013, plus a forced fumble. Fellow linebacker Ahmad Brooks was credited with three more sacks, while No. 3 cornerback Tramaine Brock recorded his team-high fourth interception of the year.

All helped to hold Newton to just 16 completions in 32 pass attempts for 169 yards. The unit also kept Newton quiet in the ground game – 17 yards on seven carries – where he typically excels as well.

One spot to nitpick: San Francisco's pass defense allowed a Newton-authored third-down conversion on each of the Panthers fourth-quarter drives.

“We played really well in some spurts,” cornerback Tarell Brown said of his secondary teammates. “Guys got hands on guys and tried to make plays on the ball. Anytime you have a quarterback that can scramble and extend plays, it makes it a little bit more difficult to stay with your receiver. For the most part, we did a good job, but we didn’t do well enough to win the game.”

That's because of Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams’ 27-yard touchdown run on the first play following the two-minute warning of the first half. Add in a 53-yard Graham Gano field goal.

Willis said his coaches have harped on "getting stops" the final two minutes of the first half lest they come back to "bite."

With their margin for error so razor-thin thanks to a 49ers offense that managed just 91 yards passing and 105 yards rushing, the Willis-led defense needed to be perfect. It wasn't quite that.

Even Willis' fellow inside 'backer joked that he needed a lift on his cleats to catch a would-have-been interception from Newton that could have shifted the course of the game.

“As a defense, we can’t control anything that is going on the other side of the ball,” said Bowman, who was his usual stout self with seven tackles. “You can only take so many punches, but you need the other side to give us something and they struggled today. They’ll go back to the drawing board and be better.”

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