CHARLOTTE, N.C. - The Panthers' playoff inexperience seemed to manifest itself the most when it came to penalties. In their first postseason game in five years, the home team was flagged eight times for 73 yards, many of those on unsportsmanlike-conduct calls for late hits and unnecessary blows.
"Some bad things happened out there," Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. "You wish we would have kept our composure a little bit better. One thing we don't want is to be pushed around, but at the same time, you have to learn and understand."
There was the flag against Mike Mitchell for drilling Vernon Davis in the open field that led to the 49ers' first field goal. The second field-goal drive was helped along when Captain Munnerlyn head-butted Michael Crabtree. Later in the game, Josh Thomas tried to punch Quinton Patton.
"In these games, you don't want to hurt your team. That's the thing that you don't want to do," 49ers receiver Anquan Boldin said. "You saw those guys out there taking swings at guys. Just stupid."
The 49ers were not without sin. Jim Harbaugh was flagged for running onto the field before the touchdown pass to Davis just before halftime was reviewed. He said he wanted to alert the officials that the game clock still was running after the ruling of an incompletion. And Boldin appeared to get away with a head-butt of his own on that crucial drive, but no flag was thrown.
"Guys played smart, we played right up to the edge," Boldin said.
The Panthers seemed to go over it. And so, too, did their season.
The 49ers attributed their poise to playoff experience, having made this run the last three years.
"In the playoffs, you give up 15-yard penalties and it keeps the drive going, it's gonna hurt you," 49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman said. "You don't have next week to play, you have one game. That's why coaches, they harped on it so much this week. No post-snap, no pre-snap, none of these and we'll be all right. And it worked out for us."
One of the most glaring examples of the chippiness and hostility between the two teams came at the end of Colin Kaepernick's 4-yard rushing touchdown in the third quarter. After he reached the end zone, he mocked Cam Newton's signature celebration move by pretending to rip open his shirt, Superman-style, to reveal an imaginary "S'' underneath.
"Just a little shout-out," Kaepernick said.
Newton didn't seem to take it so kindly.
"It's not the first [time] nor will it be the last time somebody does that," Newton said before walking off the podium to end his postgame news conference.
A dirty dozen?
And you thought Seattle was the only team with a 12th man? Turns out the 49ers had one, and it nearly cost them.
Replays on Fox showed that before the go-ahead touchdown pass to Davis, the 49ers had 12 men in their offensive huddle. That could have been a 5-yard penalty. Referee Carl Cheffers told a pool reporter after the game that he did not throw a flag because the ball was not yet in play.
"I saw that happen," he said of wide receiver Vance McDonald leaving the huddle in front of him, "but I had not yet marked the ball ready for play, so that is why I did not call it as a foul."
Cheffers also was asked what he saw that prompted him to overturn the ruling on the field on the Davis touchdown.
"When you drag the foot on these types of fields, you get the rooster tail," he said. "I think it was pretty apparent that there was a rooster tail with the left foot drag. To me, it was pretty cut and dried."
Men in the middle
Running back Frank Gore said he wanted to have a big game to help not only his team's offense but its defense.
"I told Patrick [Willis] and Bowman I'm going to try to show the world they are the two best inside linebackers," said Gore, who apparently was tired of the fawning over the Panthers' Luke Kuechly. "I take my hat off to No. 59, he's a great player, but I wanted to show everybody that we have the two best linebackers in the league."
Kuechly had a team-high 10 tackles for the Panthers. Bowman and Willis each had 11 for the 49ers.
Harbaugh said the call to run a fake punt while up by 13 points in the final minute of play came from the sideline. "[Punter Andy Lee] throws a lot better in practice," Harbaugh said . . . The 49ers are the 13th team to play in three straight conference title games since the 1970 merger . . . It was the 30th playoff win in franchise history for the 49ers, tying them with the Packers for the third most. The Steelers and Cowboys have 33 each . . . The win marked the first time the 49ers have won back-to-back road playoff games in the same postseason in franchise history. They won at Green Bay last week . . . Kaepernick, who threw for a touchdown and ran for one, became the fourth quarterback in NFL history to win each of his first three playoff starts on the road, joining Jake Delhomme, Tony Eason and Ben Roethlisberger . . . Panthers WR Steve Smith, who was questionable with a knee injury, caught four passes for 74 yards, including a 31-yard touchdown. After the catch, he pointed to his knee . . . Former Giants LB Chase Blackburn made six tackles for the Panthers.