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49ers Topple Panthers, Advance to NFC Title Game

Posted Jan 12, 2014

San Francisco clinched a third straight trip to the conference championship game with its 23-10 win on Sunday over Carolina.

Another football fight, another 49ers knockout.

Fifth-seeded San Francisco edged the second-seeded Carolina Panthers, 23-10, on Sunday in Charlotte to advance to the NFC Championship game.

"It was a real arm-wrestling kind of struggle," Jim Harbaugh told reporters postgame.

With the win, Harbaugh became the first NFL coach since the league’s reshaping in 1970 to advance to the conference title match in each of his first three seasons.

Harbaugh and Co. meet NFC West rival Seattle next Sunday at CenturyLink Field for the right to attend the Super Bowl. The Seahawks bested the NFC South's New Orleans Saints in their Divisional round matchup.

San Francisco, which has now won eight straight games including its final six in the regular season, had never before won consecutive road playoff games. Their 13th championship game appearance in Seattle will represent an NFL all-time high.

GALLERY: 49ers-Panthers in Pictures

Colin Kaepernick led the way with 196 passing overall, plus a third-quarter, statement-making rushing touchdown.

Kaepernick found wideout Anquan Boldin for gains of 16 yards and 45 yards during the team’s second half-opening touchdown drive that resulted in a 10-point lead.

Boldin finished the game with eight receptions for 136 yards. The 49ers have had a 100-yard receiver in all seven of the postseason games Harbaugh has coached.

Running back Frank Gore carried the ball 17 times for 84 yards to pass Steve Young on the franchise’s all-time postseason rushing list.

The offense converted more third downs (three) on its first drive of the game than it did for the duration of its Week 10 loss to these same Panthers (2 of 13).

Helped by an unnecessary roughness penalty on Carolina defensive back Mike Mitchell for the third of those conversions, San Francisco gained a 3-0 lead on Phil Dawson’s 49-yard field goal.

A 33-yard three-pointer made the advantage 6-0 not long after linebacker Patrick Willis intercepted a deflected Cam Newton pass, giving San Francisco the ball in Carolina territory.

In between two goal-line stands by the 49ers defense, the Panthers offense scored the game’s first touchdown on a 31-yard pass from Cam Newton to veteran wideout Steve Smith.

Kaepernick drove down the field and completed a one-yard touchdown pass to tight end Vernon Davis just before halftime. The 49ers entered halftime, leading 13-10. They had lost, 10-9, in the teams’ Week 10 meeting.

Kaepernick's four-yard touchdown run to his left capped a 77-yard drive in the third quarter. San Francisco's signal-caller celebrated by employing the patented move of his Carolina counterpart, Newton.

Dawson would execute a third field goal attempt, from 34 yards out, midway through the fourth quarter to put the Panthers away.

Newton threw for 267 yards and rushed for 54 in the defeat. He would be intercepted by safety Donte Whitner with four-plus minutes left.

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