What it means: The 49ers' five-game winning streak is over. They are 6-3 and 2½ games behind 9-1 Seattle in the NFC West. The Panthers -- who recovered two fumbles in their territory in the final two minutes -- extend their win streak to five games. The 49ers fell to 3-2 at home, and it is just the second loss at home under Jim Harbaugh after Nov. 1. This was a hard-fought, close game, but the 49ers could not make enough plays on offense to win.
Smith plays on a limited basis: 49ers star pass-rusher Aldon Smith was in for a handful of plays in his first action since Week 3. Smith returned after treatment for substance abuse. He looked good and had a strong burst on the plays he was in. The 49ers are easing him back in as he regains his conditioning.
Injuries stack up: The 49ers came out of the bye in terrific health. But they were beat up Sunday. Tight end Vernon Davis and rookie safety Eric Reid both left with concussions. They will have to pass NFL protocol before being cleared to play next week. It is Reid’s second concussion of the season. Defensive tackle Ray McDonald also left with an ankle injury.
Stock watch: The 49ers had very little passing success with Davis out Sunday. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick threw for just 91 yards. Receiver Mario Manningham made his season debut after being out with a knee injury. He had three catches for 30 yards.
What’s next: The 49ers have another huge test at New Orleans on Sunday in a game that has major NFC playoff implications.