NFL Team Report - Carolina Panthers - INSIDE SLANT
The Carolina Panthers are confident they will be back on the playoff stage next season, and that they will be better prepared by learning from mental and physical mistakes that proved costly in Sunday's 23-10 loss to the San Francisco 49ers
Quarterback Cam Newton acknowledged his first taste of the postseason was a learning experience in understanding the speed and intensity of postseason football. The defense was lamenting several mental mistakes, including allowing the 49ers to bait them into post-whistle fouls.
Penalties were costly to the Panthers, who were flagged on each of San Francisco's first three scoring drives.
"We know it's not what you do after the plays, it's what you do during the plays," 49ers center Jonathan Goodwin said. "We tried not to get too involved (with other stuff). Maybe sometimes we got too involved."
One critical missed opportunity came with a first-and-goal with the Panthers leading 7-6 in the first half. Carolina settled for a field goal and a 10-6 lead, which would prove to be the team's final points of the game.
"We just couldn't punch it in when we had to," tight end Greg Olsen said.
The offense stalled, the defense couldn't get off the field enough in the second half and it all culminated in a difficult one-and-done playoff appearance. However, the Panthers remain confident they have a solid nucleus that will learn and grow from the painful experience.
"We made believers out of our fans after starting 1-3, and they responded with overwhelming support," left tackle Jordan Gross said. "The gift is a home playoff game, and when you don't win it's very bittersweet. It stings."
Newton, in his postseason debut, threw two interceptions, including safety Donte Whitner's pickoff after the Panthers moved into San Francisco territory in the last five minutes.
"We had a great season," Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly said. "The biggest thing to do is to learn from it."
Despite the disappointing defeat, Carolina full expects to be a major factor again in the NFC next season.
"Everyone's emotional and upset, and rightfully so," safety Mike Mitchell said. "But I told guys as soon as we got in here, 'Remember this feeling and remember that team we just played because we will see them again.'
"We want to try to keep this thing together because we can beat that team. We can beat any team in this league. It just didn't happen for us today, but I want to come back and finish what we started."
NFL Team Report - Carolina Panthers - NOTES, QUOTES
--The first NFL playoff outing for quarterback Cam Newton was a disappointment.
"Playoff football is a different speed than the regular season," he said. "I learned that firsthand today."
Newton completed 16 of 25 passes for 267 yards, though 59 of those yards came on the game's second-to-last play when the 49ers had backed off.
"I'm going to focus on how I can get better than this," he said. "You have to seize the moment when the moment arrives."
--The Panthers were hit for eight penalties costing them 73 yards in their playoff loss to San Francisco.
The 49ers scored in three drives that involved defensive penalties.
"We've just got to be a little smarter," cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said. "They're going to throw to draw us, make us have penalties so they can get cheap yardage and get the first down. We've just got to be smarter and just go to play better."
Those infractions took a toll on the defense.
"Our defense played good for the most part, but we made a lot of dumb mental errors and got those penalties that really killed us," defensive tackle Star Lotulelei said.
--The Panthers were 10 for 13 on fourth-down conversions in the regular season, then were stopped on fourth-and-goal at the 49ers' 1-yard line on the first play of the second quarter.
QUOTES TO NOTE: "I always knew he was (going to play). You can ask these guys, I was always positive about Steve. In Steve's mind, he was ready." -- Panthers coach Ron Rivera on figuring WR Steve Smith's availability into the game plan considering he was coming off a knee injury that made his status questionable for the playoffs.
"I think the fans were great this year. I think they were awesome and very supportive and when they are as loud as they were this year, we feed off it more than they think." -- Panthers LB Luke Kuechly.
"At this point, there's not a whole lot of moral victories in this league. We put a lot of time and effort into this thing and we expected a lot more than just making the playoffs." -- Panthers TE Greg Olsen.
NFL Team Report - Carolina Panthers - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--Veteran wide receiver Steve Smith was back in action for the Panthers after missing the regular-season finale with a knee injury. He scored Carolina's only touchdown and made four catches for 74 yards.
Smith finished his 13th NFL season, and he said he expects to be back for another.
"It doesn't take much for me to get fired up," Smith said about the ability to be excited about playing another season.
He made his eighth postseason touchdown catch in the second quarter against the 49ers.
--RB Jonathan Stewart (knee) was inactive against the 49ers. The other inactives were: WR Tavarres King, WR Marvin McNutt, CB Josh Norman, LB Dan Connor, OL Travis Bond, DE Wes Horton.