If the Panthers had to deal with a Super Bowl hangover last week in their loss at Denver, they found the cure Sunday.
Taking advantage of a game but overmatched 49ers defense, the Panthers eventually pulled away for a comfortable 46-27 win in their home opener.
The Panthers got had to make some plays through the air with running back Jonathan Stewart out with a hamstring injury, and they did just that, with Greg Olsen, Kelvin Benjamin and Ted Ginn taking turns making big plays.
Quarterback Cam Newton finished with 353 passing yards and four touchdowns. Benjamin (seven catches for 108 yards and two touchdowns) and Olsen (five catches for 122 yards including a 78-yard touchdown) each topped 100 yards, as the Panthers’ go-to offensive playmakers were more than enough.
The 49ers couldn’t sustain the kind of defense they displayed in a shutout of the Rams last week. Perhaps playing against a professional offense has something to do with that, but there were signs of the kind of late fade the Chip Kelly Eagles displayed, when forced to stay on the field too long.
They could be competitive as long as they can run well and play with a lead, but they lack the kind of passing game to make up ground quickly, which puts them at a severe disadvantage against teams like the Panthers (who led the league in scoring last year).
The Panthers took their foot off the gas in the fourth quarter and the 49ers closed to within a touchdown with a 75-yard touchdown pass from Blaine Gabbert to tight end Vance McDonald. But there was never the sense they were going to let the 49ers back in, despite some valiant efforts by a few Panthers (namely Ginn on a bizarre fumbled kickoff return).