Bowman: 'As the game goes on, we wake up as a defense'
Ahmad Brooks (55) sacks Panthers' QB Cam Newton (1) in the second half of the 49ers' 23-10 win on Sunday. (USATSI)
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The 49ers’ defense came through with a three-and-out series to open the second half.
But the back-breaking defensive series came the next time the Carolina Panthers touched the ball with the 49ers holding a 10-point lead.
The Panthers converted three consecutive third-and-1 plays. And that might not seem like the makings of a great defensive series. But after Carolina entered into field-goal range, NaVorro Bowman and Ahmad Brooks came through with sacks of quarterback Cam Newton that pushed the Panthers back 17 yards.
And the Panthers’ 13-play drive ended with a punt. And, in the process, the defense delivered the knockout blow in a 23-10 victory over the Panthers in the divisional round of the NFC playoffs.
“That was disappointing because we did such a nice job of getting the ball down into field-goal range,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “If we can protect him a little bit better or if he can dump it a little sooner, we give ourselves the chance to score and react to that 10-point lead.”
The 49ers came through with two goal-line stands in the first half. Brooks stopped Newton on a fourth-down sneak in the second quarter. The Panthers scored a touchdown a short time later with the field position from which they benefitted after holding the 49ers to a three-and-out.
But the 49ers' second-goal line stand served to build momentum. Bowman stopped fullback Mike Tolbert for a 1-yard loss on a third-and-goal from the 1-yard line. The Panthers settled for Graham Gano’s 24-yard field goal to give Carolina a 10-6 lead.
“It was a big statement,” said Brooks, the second-team All-Pro selection who recorded 2 ½ of the 49ers’ five sacks in the game. “It let them know that we came here to play. It was a big momentum swing for us and that’s what we needed to win this game.”
Said Bowman, “We pride ourselves on keeping teams out of the end zone.”
The 49ers did not allow any points in the second half to enable the 49ers advance to the NFC Championship game for the third season in a row.
“They had some new things that we hadn’t seen on film,” said 49ers safety Donte Whitner who sealed the victory with an interception in the closing minutes.
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“Once we came in the locker room and understood what they were doing, then they went back to some of their basic stuff. That’s how we were able to come out and pitch a shutout in the second half.”
Linebacker Patrick Willis, who tied with Bowman for team-high honors with 11 tackles, said the 49ers did nothing other than play their brand of football in the second half.
“Honestly, man, I don’t think we did anything major, other than what we always do,” Willis said. “We came in at halftime and said, ‘This is the second half and we have to turn it up. We have to do more.’
“We understood that as a team and that’s what we did.”