By Andrew Carney
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP/UTC The Loop) — Michael Crabtree only had three catches for 26 yards in San Francisco’s 23-10 NFC divisional playoff win over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.
His numbers, however, hardly told the whole story of his contribution.
The 49ers (14-4) made it seven straight wins since Crabtree returned from a torn Achilles on Dec. 1.
Anquan Boldin said Crabtree was one of the reasons he was able to spring free and catch eight passes for 136 yards, saying the Panthers turned their attention to double-covering Crabtree after his big game the previous week in a wild-card win at Green Bay.
“I guess they thought they were going to try and take Crab out of the game,” Boldin said. “That’s the good part about our offense — we have weapons all around. Try and take one guy out, we still have two, three guys left who can make big plays.”
The Panthers did a number on the 49ers in the last meeting.
They limited Kaepernick to 91 yards passing, 16 yards rushing and sacked him six times in a 10-9 win over the 49ers on Nov. 10.
But that was without Crabtree.
“It makes me very comfortable,” Kaepernick said of having his full complement of receivers. “It opens the offense up. It spreads the defense out and they can’t just key in on one player.”
All that stands in the way of the 49ers returning to the Super Bowl is beating the Seahawks in Seattle next Sunday.
That’s no easy task.
Seattle beat the 49ers 29-3 this season, although that was without Crabtree in the lineup.
“Honestly we know it’s going to be a fight,” linebacker Patrick Willis said. “Any way you look at it Seattle is a good football team. They won our division this year. Hopefully we can have a great week of practice and go up there and win the game that counts the most. We look forward to it. We are embracing it.”
Five things we learned from San Francisco’s 23-10 win over Carolina:
EXPERIENCE MATTERS: The 49ers have been to the playoffs before and it showed.
The 49ers kept their composure while the Panthers struggled with mental errors. Carolina was penalized eight times for 73 yards including two unnecessary roughness penalties and an unsportsmanlike conduct.
In all the 49ers picked up five first downs on Carolina penalties.
“Guys played smart,” Boldin said. “We played right up to the edge. In these games, you don’t want to hurt your team. That’s the thing you don’t want to do. You saw guys out there taking swings at guys. That’s just stupid.”
Said Panthers coach Ron Rivera: “We have to learn and understand (that) we have to maintain our composure — and that falls on me.”
OFFICIATING QUESTIONED: Several Panthers expressed concern over the officiating in Sunday’s game.
Safety Mike Mitchel took exception to a couple of calls, including the officials’ decision to penalize teammate Captain Munnerlyn for head-butting Crabtree in the first half, but not throwing a flag when Boldin did the same thing to him later on.
“I mean, it’s just ridiculous. A couple of things that weren’t called the same way,” Mitchell said. “I made a good play taking his legs out and he’s gets up in my face and head butts me, which is the same exact thing that you saw Captain Munnerlyn do. … I mean, it was the exact same play. One team gets the call, another team doesn’t.”
Mitchell also disputed an unnecessary roughness penalty called on him when he hit Vernon Davis after a tipped pass. That penalty, like the one on Munnerlyn, led to San Francisco field goals.
STEVE SMITH IS TOUGH: We knew this, of course, but Steve Smith is one tough guy.
The Panthers 34-year-old receiver battled back from a sprained knee ligament and had four catches for 74 yards and a touchdown despite not being close to 100 percent.
49ERS CAN RUN IT TOO: They aren’t the New England Patriots, but the 49ers proved again they can run the football in the playoffs. Frank Gore ran for 84 yards on 17 carries and San Francisco racked up 126 yards against the league’s second-ranked defense.
HARBAUGH CAN COACH: Jim Harbaugh continues to make the right calls in the postseason. Harbaugh became the first NFL coach since the AFL-NFL merger to lead his team to the conference championship game in each of his first three seasons as a coach.
Even though Harbaugh ran on the field during a play to argue a call and cost his team 15 yards, his players said they have his back.
“He’s passionate,” Kaepernick said. “I can’t be mad at him for trying to get a call and trying to get things right. He’s a great coach to play for.”
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