While the 49ers did lose 46-27 this past Sunday, there were a lot of things to look at going forward, both positive and concerning.
The opening drive for Carolina was almost immediately snuffed out as NaVorro Bowman tipped Cam Newton's first pass and it was intercepted by Antoine Bethea. While it would have been great if the offense could have punched it into the endzone, the 49ers did take a 3-0 lead.
The other plays were the Gerald Hodges sack/fumble force of Cam Newton, which was recovered by Eli Harold and set up a field goal that cut the 31-10 lead to 31-13.
The very next play was the fumble recovery by Shaun Draughn when Ted Ginn muffed the kickoff. It set up Blaine Gabbert's one-yard sneak and cut the lead to 31-20. It was the play that got the 49ers back into the game and had a couple other things go right, they may have stolen this game.
Phil Dawson continues to be money on field goals, going to 2 for 2 on Sunday.
There wasn't much to say about the offense, except that when the defense gave them opportunities, they took advantage. The offense scored 20 of their 27 points off forced turnovers, giving them 34 total points off turnovers for the season thus far.
Gabbert's 28 yard touchdown pass to Torrey Smith was accurate and well-thrown, as was his bullet to Vance McDonald that went 75 yards and cut the Panther lead to 34-27 late in the 4th quarter.
While there were good things and the fact that the Niners had a chance in this game was a positive, but let's not ignore all of the mistakes that happened.
The Running game
The offensive line could not hold off the front seven of Carolina and establish a ground attack, which was disappointing because Denver was able to the week before. Carlos Hyde was held to 34 yards and his key fumble in the first quarter gave the Panthers their first lead of the game, as well as all the momentum.
The Pass Rush
Or lack thereof. Simply put, there was no pass rush. Cam Newton had all day to throw and he made the 49ers pay repeatedly, especially on third downs. Kelvin Benjamin (7 catches, 108 yards and 2 touchdowns) and Greg Olsen (5-122 and 1 touchdown) destroyed the Niners and made every big play.
Had there had been some pressure on Newton, things could have been different.
The Passing game
Blaine Gabbert did some good things, but there were also some bad throws. Up until the end, the worst plays Gabbert had were a few misses to guys who were open. This may sound funny but, when he's accurate, he's very good. When he's not, he's just awful. His two interceptions at the end of the game were just bad throws.
While Vance McDonald made a great play on the long touchdown, his drop with 4 minutes left probably altered the game towards Carolina. The 49ers had cut the lead to 34-27, and then after Graham Gano extended the Panther lead to 37-27, McDonald had a chance to get the ball deep in Carolina territory, or even score again. He got behind the defense and Gabbert laid out a beautiful pass, but he dropped it. It felt very similar to his drop in the 2013 regular season game against the Panthers during his rookie season that essentially ended that game.
While Rod Streater and Jeremy Kurley have potential and even did a few nice things Sunday, they and Quinton Patton just didn't do enough to make the offense effective.
The 49ers were within 7 points with 5 minutes to go in the game after traveling to the East Coast on a short week against the NFC Champions. That is a positive thing to build on. Yes, they could have pulled this out, but it is also true they ended up losing 46-27.
They should be able to learn from this and continue to play very competitive against most teams this season.
Linebacker Ray-Ray Armstrong was placed on IR this week with a torn pectoral. Shane Skov was promoted to the active roster. Gerald Hodges likely takes the starting spot.