The Panthers had already been stonewalled at the goal line twice, but were still ahead just before halftime.
But their first two drives of the second half were enough to swing the balance of the game, and the 49ers defense knew it.
They forced the Panthers into a quick three-and-out, and then stopped a promising drive (the Panthers converted three third-and-1s) with a pair of sacks, leaving the Panthers in a hole they weren’t able to get out of.
“They had some new things that we hadn’t seen on film,” 49ers safety Donte Whitner said, via Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com. “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.”
Having that 13-play drive end with a punt deflated the Panthers, and the home crowd, leaving Bank of America silent and confused.
“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.”
Instead, the Panthers are reacting to their season being over.