Analysis: In prove-it test vs. undefeated 49ers, Panthers flunk in every way possible

Analysis: In prove-it test vs. undefeated 49ers, Panthers flunk in every way possible
(Source: Tim Ireland)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Brendan Marks//The Charlotte Observer) - Something no scoreboard can ever properly communicate?

Hopelessness.

Of course, a 51-13 loss is a glaring imbalance, a sign that something — or in the Carolina Panthers’ case, many somethings — has gone horribly wrong. It’s the third-most points ever allowed in franchise history, and also the third-worst margin of defeat. But even the lopsided score doesn’t fully capture just how superior the San Francisco 49ers were on Sunday at Levi’s Stadium.

Even the statistics don’t give the full picture: That the Panthers gained just 230 yards, compared with 388 for the San Francisco 49ers; or that Carolina allowed seven sacks, a season-high, including six in the first half. Clearly, Carolina’s offense was out of whack.

Still, that doesn’t convey the depravity of the situation like the looks on the Panthers faces: A snarled, what-is-going-on grimace from injured quarterback Cam Newton on the sideline; defensive tackle Gerald McCoy shrugging after the umpteenth long 49ers run; Tre Boston — the loudest, most energetic player on the team — bent over on the bench with his gaze fixed on the ground.

That is what hopeless looks like. And for the Panthers (4-3), it also looks like something moving forward that will determine the course of the rest of this season:

Self-doubt.

A beatdown like this, when a team is so thoroughly bested in every aspect of a football game, can have a trickle-down effect. Doubt permeates between players. And the Panthers know exactly what that feels like, considering they experienced it last season during their seven-game losing streak.

Not allowing that same mentality to spread will be critical for the Panthers in rebounding from this defeat.

Because it absolutely was the sentiment Sunday.

That began early when the 49ers (7-0) promptly moved down the field on their first offensive possession, ripping off chunks of yards with ease. An 11-yard run, then another, then one for 22 soon after. In less than six minutes, the 49ers had marched 75 yards down the field and into the end zone, courtesy of a 4-yard touchdown grab from new-addition wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders.

After a quick Panthers three-and-out (entering Sunday, San Francisco’s defense forced three-and-outs 50 percent of the time), it was more of the same. Twelve yards to dynamic tight end George Kittle, then another deep grab by Kittle for 29 more. Kittle scoring, having the play nullified due to offensive pass interference ... and then Tevin Coleman shooting 19 yards untouched for a score the next snap.

Coleman was the 49ers’ running back of choice Sunday, the catch (or rather run) of the day in the Bay Area. The former Atlanta Falcons back finished with 105 yards rushing and a career-high four total touchdowns (one receiving), trampling over his old division rival. And on his two longest touchdowns, that first one of 19 yards and later a 48-yard breakaway, nobody in a Panthers uniform ever got a hand on him.

But it would be unfair to blame Sunday’s disaster on the defense alone.

Quarterback Kyle Allen, who had led the Panthers to a 4-0 record while filling in for Newton, revealed his warts in full. After going 159 attempts without throwing an interception, Allen threw a pass far behind a crossing Curtis Samuel and almost straight to cornerback Emmanuel Moseley early in the second quarter. That set San Francisco up from the Carolina 27-yard line, leading to two 49ers runs for a combined 17 yards and then Coleman’s second touchdown of the afternoon on a 10-yard reception.

But once the interception dam cracked, it burst. Allen only made it another 20 attempts before his second interception of the day, which went right to a stationary Richard Sherman. And after another 49ers score — that time to make it 41-13 — Allen threw a third interception his very next attempt.

That one, though, was as emblematic of the day’s trouncing as anything.

Allen dropped back to pass, and Nick Bosa — who already had sacked Allen three times Sunday — moved to avoid the chop block. But in doing so, he put himself directly in Allen’s throwing lane. Then he jumped, as acrobatically and effortlessly as you’d expect from the No. 2 overall pick in April’s NFL Draft, and picked off Allen’s attempted pass to Reggie Bonnafon in the flat.

Then the defensive end lumbered back down field, away from Allen chasing behind. Eventually receiver DJ Moore ran back to help as well, and he started tackling Bosa when Allen caught up.

Instead, Allen ended up sprawled out on his stomach in the shadow of his own end zone. He lifted his helmet up, then dropped his head, too.

It was that sort of day. And the worst part was, there was still another 15 minutes before the agony became official.