The San Francisco 49ers scored 17 fourth quarter points to make things interesting, but Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers prevailed in a 46-27 victory on Sunday.
Newton threw for 353 yards and four touchdowns in Carolina’s Week 2 win. Two of those scores went to Kelvin Benjamin, who racked up 108 receiving yards on seven receptions.
But the 49ers had their chances. Chip Kelly acknowledged as much following the loss. San Francisco had six penalties for 50 yards, many of which came on the defensive side of the football and kept Carolina’s drives going.
“When you turn it over three times, that’s not good,” Kelly said. “The things we can control; the tackling on defense; the penalties that kept the drives alive. We had too many drops to be consistent as a team. We didn’t do what we needed to do in order to beat a really good football team.”
Kelly focused on the battle in the trenches, where he felt like the 49ers fell short on Sunday. Carlos Hyde was limited to 34 yards on 14 carries. Meanwhile, Panthers running back Fozzy Whitaker racked up 100 yards on 16 carries after Jonathan Stewart left with a hamstring injury.
Offensively, San Francisco had trouble with Panthers defensive linemen Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short. Carolina’s pair of big bodies up front ate up blockers and enabled standout linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis to make plays in the running game.
“We felt like we could have run the ball, but we didn’t,” Kelly said. “That was a matchup that we didn’t win. We didn’t win at the line of scrimmage, and if you don’t win at the line of scrimmage, you can’t run the ball consistently.”
Kelly called the team’s performance “up and down.” There were certainly plenty of positive moments to build on. San Francisco’s defense forced four turnovers and Gabbert threw for 243 yards, two touchdowns and also scored on a 1-yard run in the fourth quarter.
“He wasn’t helped with the drops, but there were some plays where he could have been more accurate with the ball,” Kelly said when asked to evaluate Gabbert’s play. “You look at two (throws), he throws a 75-yard touchdown to Vance McDonald, and then we hit him again and we drop it.”
Carolina’s receivers were another catalyst in the win for the Panthers. Benjamin made several contested catches in huge moments. Outside of the touchdowns, the second-year wideout made two crucial, 25-yard receptions.
The first came in the third quarter. On 3rd-and-7, Newton hit Benjamin up the right seam. Jimmie Ward looked to knock the ball loose, but Benjamin was able to secure the ball with one arm. In the fourth quarter, Benjamin converted a 3rd-and-10. Had the receiver not made the play, Carolina would have punted the ball back to the 49ers in a seven-point game.
Later, Devin Funchess grabbed a 50-50 ball in the end zone for a 19-yard touchdown.
“There were a lot of contested catches where (the Panthers) just made plays,” Kelly said. “The one Benjamin made, Jimmie is right there, knocks the ball out, and then (Benjamin) makes the play. It was one of those days where they were making plays, and to be a good team, we’ve got to make those plays.”
San Francisco will go on the road again in Week 3 to play the Seattle Seahawks for their second divisional game of the season.
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