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49ers roll into NFC title game

  • Anthony Dixon signals TD after Vernon Davis' catch in the corner of the end zone late in the second quarter. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The 49ers seemed to have flubbed their way out of a halftime lead, no small matter in this rugged, sometimes-contentious NFC divisional playoff game at Bank America Stadium.

There were 14 seconds left in the second quarter when Colin Kaepernick rolled to his right and tossed an end-zone pass to tight end Vernon Davis near the right sideline. Davis caught the ball, but officials ruled that he didn't get his left foot inbounds. To compound the failure, referee Carl Cheffers slapped Jim Harbaugh with a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct after the 49ers head coach charged onto the field to argue.

It looked as though the Niners would be facing third and goal from the 16, making another field goal – and a 10-9 halftime deficit – the most likely outcome.

San Francisco 49ers vs. Carolina Panthers

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Harbaugh can be hard on officials, but it was Cheffers who started the swing that put the visitors back on top. Reviewing a video replay, he saw that Davis had dragged his second foot and awarded him a touchdown. The 49ers went up 13-10 and never looked back, dominating the second half and leaving North Carolina on Sunday with a 23-10 victory.

“I'm proud of our team for prevailing,” Harbaugh said afterward. “(Safety) Donte Whitner said it real good before the game, he said 'every man, man up,' and they did. You're very proud of your team when they do that, when you go out on the road and in a playoff game and beat another team that's a very good football team, in their stadium. Yes, it does make you feel like a strong, mighty man.”

Next up for these mighty 49ers: a rubber match against their archrivals, the Seahawks, on the road again, with a trip to Super Bowl XLVIII on the line.

The crazy thing, Davis said, was that his big catch was all but predestined. He practices the sideline toe-tap off to the side every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. This week his usual practice passer, assistant trainer Nate Breske, was replaced by Frank Gore, who told Davis, “This is the catch. This is the catch we need.” The star halfback isn't so good with his arm, though, and his throws to Davis were erratic, wobbly and frequently low – just like the real pass that came from Kaepernick.

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