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Colin Kaepernick, 49ers offense expect to do better against Panthers

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick celebrates after

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick celebrates after scoring a touchdown against the Tennessee Titans during the second quarter. (Oct. 20, 2013) Credit: AP

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- While so many look ahead to Sunday afternoon's NFC divisional-round game at Carolina, the San Francisco 49ers, particularly quarterback Colin Kaepernick, will not forget the immediate past -- a loss to the Panthers in Week 10 in which the Niners couldn't score a TD.

Carolina won that one, 10-9, on Nov. 10 at Candlestick Park as the 49ers had their fewest net passing yards (46) in eight years. They didn't score a point in the second half and finished with only 151 total yards.

Forty-Niners offensive coordinator Greg Roman gave credit to the Carolina defense but also used the description "perfect storm.'' Or, from the Niners' viewpoint, imperfect storm.

"It wasn't our best day at the office,'' Roman said.

The fifth-seeded 49ers are a slight favorite over the second-seeded Panthers. A 23-20 wild- card victory in Green Bay in subzero weather last weekend has the oddsmakers believing the defending NFC champions still are capable. The 49ers, winners of their last seven games, very much agree.

Coach Jim Harbaugh, who can turn you off with a sneer or light you up with a one-liner, was giddy after the Green Bay game. "Didn't think we were going to pull it out, did you?'' was Harbaugh's rhetorical question.

Kaepernick, like Harbaugh, can be reticent. In his Wednesday interview, however, the third-year quarterback was relaxed and communicative. "It was me,'' Kaepernick said of the offensive failings against Carolina in November. "I didn't perform well enough. It was a variety of things.''

Michael Crabtree still was missing, recovering from an Achilles tear that kept him out of the first 11 games. Tight end Vernon Davis left halfway through the second quarter with a concussion. Kaepernick was sacked six times.

"Vernon changes defenses,'' Kaepernick said. "He makes them do things they don't normally do.''

What Kaepernick, the sixth quarterback selected in the 2011 draft and 36th pick overall, wants to do is make people believe he should have been taken earlier -- if not No. 1, as Carolina's Cam Newton was that year, then at least ahead of Blaine Gabbert (10th) or Christian Ponder (12th). "It's not something I'll forget,'' said Kaepernick, who played at Nevada.

Something else not to forget is that last season, Kaepernick replaced Alex Smith as the starting quarterback and helped get the 49ers to the Super Bowl, where they lost to Baltimore.

The return of Crabtree has given the 49ers a dimension they lacked. "He's the greatest catcher of all time,'' an enthusiastic Harbaugh insisted.

(That presumably doesn't include Yogi Berra, Johnny Bench or Roy Campanella.)

Crabtree had eight receptions for 125 yards last Sunday at Lambeau Field. "Having Crabtree makes a huge difference," Davis said. "We're just on a different level right now.''

The defenses from both teams are at a very high level. On ESPN, one-time NFL running back Merril Hoge said he couldn't remember two teams with as fine a combined group of linebackers -- Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis and Chase Blackburn for Carolina, Ahmad Brooks, NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis for the 49ers.

Harbaugh called Kuechly "a fantastic football player'' whom the 49ers "must get blocked.'' They didn't in the earlier game.

"But it wasn't so much what the Panther defense was doing,'' Kaepernick said. "It was our execution.''

Athletes always think they should have done better. In the Carolina game in Week 10, the 49ers couldn't have done worse.

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