CHARLOTTE -- In the end, experience paid off for the 49ers. In an intense, emotional, occasionally violent setting, the cooler heads prevailed. They bided time, remained calm throughout the chaos, and in the end their superiority took over.
Sunday's 23-10 win over Carolina, propelling the 49ers to their third straight NFC championship game, was as much about steadiness as it was talent. In a chippy game of smashmouth football, execution and composure won out.
Carolina, in its first playoff game as a unit, started off foaming at the mouth like a bunch of Panthers chewing on Alka Seltzers. They were taunting. They were provoking. They were hitting. Early on, it looked as if they would out-testosterone the 49ers.
But the rage backfired. It led to costly penalties that helped the road team bide its time. And when the rage wore off, what was left was the better team standing.
San Francisco's defense took advantage of Carolina's limited weapons and eventually corralled Cam Newton. The 49ers defense pitched a shutout in the second half.
The offensive line eventually got comfortable enough handling the Panthers' aggressive front seven and figured out a way to buy Colin Kaepernick some time and open Frank Gore some holes.
Vernon Davis' touchdown just before half time, secured by the dragging of his left foot, negated a dominant first half for the Panthers. The 49ers had absorbed the venom and fury of Carolina and still managed to walk away with the lead.
Then in the third quarter, Kaepernick capped an eight-play, 73-yard drive with his feet. His score hushed the crowd at Bank of America stadium. He silenced the trash talk of the Panthers players. It punctuated the reality that for a time was obscured: the 49ers were better.