4:05 PM ET, November 10, 2013
Candlestick Park, San Francisco, CA
The Carolina Panthers have picked up their play after a rough start, bringing themselves into the playoff picture.
While their win streak has been impressive, it hasn't come against the best competition.
The schedule will ramp up Sunday when they visit the San Francisco 49ers.
A five-game win streak by the 49ers is the only one among NFC teams currently longer than the Panthers (5-3), who have won four in a row and scored at least 30 points in each victory while limiting opponents to 15 or fewer.
Cam Newton's play has illustrated the nature of their season as a whole. He completed 57.5 percent of his passes with six TDs, five interceptions and a 78.4 passer rating in the team's first four games. During the win streak, Newton is completing 72.3 percent with seven TDs, two picks and a 109.8 rating along with three rushing touchdowns.
The surge may mean a longer leash for coach Ron Rivera, who entered the year on the hot seat after going 13-19 in his first two seasons.
"I think we can be a playoff team because of the things we've done and because of the way we're playing," Rivera said. "If we had played like this, consistent all the way through, who knows? We have a great opportunity and a challenge in front of us. The chances can be limitless. But we have to play that way. Just because we're doing it now doesn't mean it is automatic."
Carolina is a game behind New Orleans for the NFC South lead as the franchise seeks its first five-game win streak since a six-game run Oct. 3-Nov. 13, 2005. The Panthers went on to lose in the NFC championship game that year.
However, the current streak has come against teams with a combined 8-33 record. After facing the 49ers (6-2), the Panthers will host AFC East-leading New England and still have two meetings with the Saints looming.
"I think a lot of people are doubting us and what not," tackle Jordan Gross said. "But we know how good we are and we've just got to go out there every week and prove it."
San Francisco is coming off its bye week after building a wave of momentum, winning five in a row by a 174-61 margin after being outscored 56-10 in losses to Seattle and Indianapolis.
"Really a dramatic improvement in terms of playing disciplined, sound technique football," coach Jim Harbaugh said. "So, it's a great job by the fellas in that regard. Execution's been good, getting better and you keep seeing that we can, that there's even, you play good football and there's room for improvement."
The 49ers' win streak hasn't come against top-flight competition, either, with those opponents posting a 13-28 record.
Both quarterbacks figure to be tested, with Newton going up against a San Francisco defense that ranks fourth in opponent passer rating (75.3). Colin Kaepernick has rushed 18 times for 122 yards and three scores in his last two games, but Carolina has given up a total of 43 yards on 21 carries to opposing quarterbacks this year with no TDs.
Frank Gore, second in the NFL in rushing since Week 3 with 558 yards, is facing the league's second-best run defense (79.1 ypg).
While the 49ers' passing game has floundered -- they rank last in yardage -- Kaepernick should be helped by Mario Manningham's expected season debut. Manningham, out since suffering a knee injury last December, was second on the team last season with 42 receptions for 449 yards.
Fellow receiver Michael Crabtree was cleared to practice Tuesday, but he's likely still a few weeks away from playing after tearing his Achilles in May.
It's not clear whether Aldon Smith will play after he rejoined the team this week following a stint at an inpatient treatment center for substance abuse. Smith, arrested in September on suspicion of DUI and for possession of marijuana, has 4 1/2 sacks and 18 tackles in three games.
Carolina has won seven of the last nine meetings, including three of four in San Francisco. The teams haven't played since a 23-20 Panthers win Dec. 24, 2010, though Gore totaled 159 yards and a TD on 23 touches.
More from ESPN.com
Panthers claim Martin off waivers from 49ers
The Carolina Panthers claimed former San Francisco 49ers offensive tackle Jonathan Martin off waivers on Friday.
NFL lawsuit for Hardy evidence put on hold
Tuesday's scheduled hearing to determine whether the NFL is entitled to evidence from the July 15 domestic violence trial of Dallas Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy has been put on hold in an attempt to settle the matter out of court.
49ers waive offensive lineman Jonathan Martin
The San Francisco 49ers released offensive lineman Jonathan Martin on Thursday, the team announced.
Muench: Top draft targets for the 49ers
How will the 49ers replace their latest departures? Steve Muench identifies six prospects San Francisco could target in the draft.
Recent Blog Posts
- Ron Rivera delivers strong message for hiring military veterans
- Panthers add what Rivera calls 'special teams ace' in Trusnik
- Panthers in no hurry to sign Greg Jennings after landing 'on the cusp' Boykin
San Francisco 49ers
|Avg Points Allowed||12.8||17.2|
Team Averages & NFL Ranks
|TEAM OFFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|TEAM DEFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|Pass Yds Allowed||CAR|
|Rush Yds Allowed||CAR|
Head to Head Matchups (Since 2001)
|Carolina leads 4-3|
|Oct 24, 2010||CAR 23, SF 20|
|Dec 2, 2007||CAR 31, SF 14|
|Nov 14, 2004||CAR 37, @SF 27|
|Nov 18, 2001||CAR 22, SF 25|
|Oct 7, 2001||CAR 14, @SF 24|
Mario Manningham's return will bolster the 49ers' wide receiver corps. Colin Kaepernick completed 15 of 22 attempts (68.2 percent) to Manningham last season.[+]
Colin Kaepernick Targeting Wide Receivers - This Season
Since he entered the NFL in 2011, Aldon Smith has been one of the most dominant pass-rushers in the league... His 38 sacks in 35 games is the 2nd-most in the NFL since 2011... And only 4 players have had more sacks than Smith in their 1st 3 seasons since sacks became official in 1982.[+]
Only the Lions use four or fewer rushers more frequently than the 49ers (83.5 percent of dropbacks). Cam Newton has completed an NFL-best 77.9 percent of his passes against such pressure since Week 6.[+]
Cam Newton Facing 4 or Fewer Pass Rushers - This Season
Since entering the NFL in 2011, Aldon Smith has 38 sacks in 35 games. Only Jared Allen of the Vikings has more during that span -- a mere half-sack more than Smith.[+]
Cam Newton posted his lowest Total QBR in a win in his career (19.3). The Panthers had been 1-12 in games Newton started and his Total QBR was below 40.0. The only other win was against the Jaguars.
The 49ers had four yards of offense on 14 fourth-quarter plays against the Panthers (fewest fourth-quarter yards since 2008 vs Bills). Kaepernick was 2-of-9 passing with an interception, and was sacked three times in the fourth quarter Sunday. He has the third-lowest fourth-quarter Total QBR in the NFL this season.[+]
- Cam Newton was 6-for-8 for 63 yards on third down in the second half after going 1-4 with an interception on third down in the first half. - Newton was 6-for-8 for 63 yards when targeting Steve Smith in the second half, including 4-for-5 on third down. Newton only targeted Smith once in the first half.
Colin Kaepernick had a 7.7 Total QBR, his lowest this season
- The Panthers sacked Kaepernick a season-high six times, with four coming when rushing four or fewer defenders. Kaepernick hadn't taken more than three total sacks in a game this season. - Kaepernick didn't record one scramble Sunday, his first game this season without one. When Kaepernick did escape the pocket, he was 0-for-4 with two sacks. - The 49ers were limited to 44 yards after contact on 32 rushes and receptions Sunday, their lowest of the season. 12 of the 44 yards came on one Frank Gore rush. - The 49ers gained only 43 yards after the catch on 11 receptions. The 3.9 average yards after the catch was the lowest for the 49ers this season.
Colin Kaepernick was 0-for-6 on throws deeper than 10 yards downfield, including a game-ending interception. It is the first time in his career Kaepernick hasn't completed a deep pass with multiple attempts. The Panthers' defense is now tied with the Patriots for the most interceptions on deep passes (nine).[+]
Colin Kaepernick Throws More Than 10 Yds Downfield, This Season
ESPN Stats & Information