Why 89 is key: Steve Smith showed why the Panthers need him, catching four passes for 74 yards. But none was more Smith-like than the 31-yard touchdown with tight coverage on the left side to give Carolina a 7-6 lead with 13:40 left in the second quarter. With Smith out of the regular-season finale at Atlanta, Carolina receivers had four catches for 22 yards.
Too chippy: The Carolina secondary got a bit too full of itself in the first half, drawing a pair of personal fouls that helped the 49ers jump to a 6-0 lead. One was on a head-butt by corner Captain Munnerlyn and the other a hit by safety Mike Mitchell on the receiver after an incompletion.
Riverboat Ron Rivera: The Panthers had been successful on 8 of 9 fourth-and-1 plays before Cam Newton was stopped short at the goal line on the first play of the second quarter. The crowd loved the call. Not sure if a field goal in the first half wouldn't have been the smarter call, but it turned out OK as the defense held and the offense quickly responded.
Bad call: Not sure why the Panthers didn't let Newton attempt a sneak on third down at about the half-yard line later in the second quarter. They had a chance to take control. Instead, they lost a yard and settled for a field goal. Newton, by the way, already had 40 yards rushing at that point.
Upon further review: The Panthers were upset five plays before Colin Kaepernick completed a 1-yard touchdown pass with five seconds left in the half for a 13-10 lead. The completion to tight end Vernon Davis came after officials reviewed what initially was an incompletion. But the play that upset Carolina was when wide receiver Anquan Boldin wasn't called for a head-butt after a 15-yard catch to the Carolina 9, arguing it was no different than the one called on Munnerlyn.