What it means: Relevance. Big-time. Those who didn't take the Panthers (6-3) seriously before Sunday will now. They won their fifth straight game and sixth in the past seven to go from a possible playoff contender to a serious threat in the NFC. Not only did Carolina win, it proved it can win a big game, and it proved it can win a close big game. Carolina's record in games decided by a touchdown or less was 2-14 -- 0-2 this season -- coming into the day.
Stock watch: For the second straight game quarterback Cam Newton saw his consistency plummet. But for the second straight week he did enough to get the win thanks to another stout defensive effort. A 9-yard completion to Steve Smith on third-and-9 with 2:18 left and the Panthers trying to run out the clock might have been one of the biggest plays of his career. Oh, and his recovery of his own fumble on third-and-2 with under two minutes left that almost was disastrous.
Bad and good timing: Kicker Graham Gano had been perfect this season on all 12 field goal attempts until missing a 48-yarder with 3:41 left in the third quarter that would have given Carolina a 10-7 lead. There was no wind at Candlestick to blame that one on either. He came back with a 53-yarder to make it 10-9 with 10:05 to play. He is 5-for-5 from 50-plus yards.
Say what? Still don't see how the officials didn't rule that a catch and fumble by San Francisco's Vernon Davis late in the first half. The incompletion call led to a 49ers field goal and 9-0 lead.
Defense stout: The Panthers may have beaten up on some also-rans en route to this game, but that shouldn't take away from what this defense has accomplished. It is playing at a championship level, holding San Francisco to 143 total yards.
What's next? The Panthers play host to the New England Patriots on Nov. 18 on "Monday Night Football." It will be the first meeting between the teams that met in the 2003 season Super Bowl since 2009, a 20-10 New England victory.