San Francisco 49ers (13-4) at Carolina Panthers (12-4) (Sunday, FOX, 1:05 PM ET)
Opening the postseason on the road, San Francisco won 23-20 at Green Bay to advance to the Divisional round for the third consecutive season under head coach Jim Harbaugh. Phil Dawson kicked three field goals, including the game-winner as time expired, and Colin Kaepernick passed for 227 yards and rushed for 98.
“It was amazing to get that win,” says Kaepernick, who improved to 3-1 in his postseason career. “We came back, fought and played hard.”
In the victory at Green Bay, wide receiver Michael Crabtree had eight catches for 125 yards and Pro Bowl tight end Vernon Davis had a 28-yard touchdown catch, his sixth postseason TD in six career playoff games.
“They got us the first time,” says Pro Bowl linebacker NaVorro Bowman of the Panthers, who defeated the 49ers 10-9 in Week 10. “What’s on our minds is to get them now. It’s the playoffs. Win or go home.”
The Panthers tied a franchise record with 12 wins and won the division for the fourth time in team history. Carolina had five players selected to the Pro Bowl: DE Greg Hardy (1st), C Ryan Kalil (4th), LB Luke Kuechly (1st), QB Cam Newton (2nd) & FB Mike Tolbert (1st).
“This is going to be a new venture for me and I’m going to try and make the most of it,” says Newton, who is making his postseason debut. “You have to play each and every play like it’s your last because it may be.”
Carolina ranked second in the NFL in points allowed (241), total defense (301.3 yards per game) and rushing defense (86.9). Kuechly and Thomas Davis were the only linebacker teammates to each record at least 120 tackles, two sacks and two interceptions. Hardy, who tied the single-season team record with 15 sacks (Kevin Greene, 1998), is the first player in NFL history to enter the postseason after posting at least three sacks in his team’s final two games.
“This is my first time in the playoffs and it’s exciting,” says Hardy. “I can’t wait to see what’s next. I want to enjoy it.”