Wrap-up: Panthers 23, 49ers 20

Thoughts on the San Francisco 49ers' performance against the Carolina Panthers in Week 7:

What it means: Alex Smith no longer has to worry about 49ers fans chanting for backup David Carr. Fans got their wish Sunday when a sprained left shoulder prevented Smith from continuing. Carr struggled badly, however, and his late interception put the Panthers in position to score the winning points. Count this as another devastating defeat in for the 49ers in a season filled with them. There's no evidence suggesting the 49ers will turn around their season. They appear hopeless.

Missed opportunity: With a victory, the 49ers would have headed into Week 8 knowing they would have only one fewer victory than the loser of the Arizona-Seattle game later in the day.

Tomorow's Talker: Smith's injury means the 49ers have quarterback issues. Is Smith finished in San Francisco? Or can he bounce back and try to salvage the season?

Big Revelation: The 49ers' defense can make a play to win a game, or at least go ahead late in a game. Defensive end Ray McDonald picked off Panthers quarterback Matt Moore in the fourth quarter, returning the ball 31 yards for a touchdown. The 49ers have needed this type of boost from their defense. Cornerback Nate Clements had come close to making it happen against the Atlanta Falcons, only to lose a fumble during his fourth-quarter interception return.

A good break, finally: Sometimes a team needs a break. The 49ers caught one when Panthers receiver David Gettis dropped a fourth-down pass in the end zone with the 49ers clinging to a 20-13 lead with 5:39 remaining. Allowing Gettis to catch the tying touchdown pass later in the game? That one is on the 49ers.

What I liked: The 49ers got their running game going for stretches while containing the Panthers' one-two punch of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. San Francisco had struggled some against some quicker running backs. That made the shifty Williams a potential threat. San Francisco prevented him from getting loose.

What I didn't like: Moore entered the game with a 33.3 rating in three games this season (two starts), but he looked like a competent game manager for much of this matchup against the 49ers. Yes, McDonald picked off Moore in the fourth quarter, returning the interception for the go-ahead touchdown. Talent-wise, the 49ers should be good enough defensively to jump on a shaky quarterback from the beginning. Instead, they couldn't stop Moore early in the game or during crunch time.

Flags flying: The 49ers' penalty problems continued, at one point erasing a clutch punt from Andy Lee when field position was critical for the 49ers late in the game.

What's next: The 49ers head across the Atlantic Ocean for a Week 8 game against the Denver Broncos in London.