Evening things up
Panthers dominate 49ers 41-24 to even record at 7-7
Posted: Sunday December 19, 1999 01:17 PM
Carolina's Muhsin Muhammad gets into the end zone for a 12-yard score in front of 49ers linebacker Lee Woodall. AP
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -- George Seifert is happy to have the Carolina Panthers at the .500 mark for the first time since December 1997. His players have a bigger goal in mind.
Steve Beuerlein picked apart San Francisco's secondary for 368 yards and four touchdowns Saturday, leading the surging Panthers to a 41-24 victory.
Carolina (7-7) has won five of seven, keeping the Panthers in the thick of the chase for an NFC wild-card berth.
"I don't know if I've ever been so excited to get to .500," said Seifert, who is in his first season coaching the Panthers after an eight-year stint at San Francisco in which he compiled the best winning percentage in NFL history.
"To accomplish this might not seem like much, but for us at this point, it's pretty damn important."
But not as important as a playoff berth, which is something the Panthers haven't earned since winning the NFC West in 1996.
"I know we need some help the rest of the way," tight end Wesley Walls said. "But it's Christmas, and I've got a wish list. I hope everybody loses so we can get in the playoffs."
If Carolina qualifies for the postseason, a big reason will be Beuerlein, who has thrown for an NFL-best 3,851 yards this season, helping the Panthers to seven games of at least 30 points. That's one more than they had in their first four seasons combined. Saturday's point total was their highest since scoring 45 against St. Louis in October 1996.
"The best we could do right now is get to 9-7," Beuerlein said. "If it's good enough, great. If it's not, we did our best."
Most of the Panthers' late-season surge has come while the team has struggled to deal with the distractions created by what authorities say was a plot by Rae Carruth to kill his pregnant girlfriend. Carruth, Carolina's first-round draft pick in 1997, is being held without bond on first-degree murder and other charges and has been cut by the team. His girlfriend, Cherica Adams, was buried Saturday, about three hours before kickoff.
"I can't say that it doesn't bother the team," Seifert said. "You have to handle it within yourself and you still have your jobs and responsibilities and your families to deal with and take care of."
The events associated with Carruth over the past five weeks didn't seem to be much of a problem for the Panthers on Saturday as they sent San Francisco (4-10) to its first 10-loss season since 1980. The 49ers have allowed at least 40 points five times this year.
"While guys are playing hard and seemingly doing the best they can, opponents find a way to attack our secondary," coach Steve Mariucci said.
The Panthers finished with 452 yards, marking the sixth consecutive game they have gained at least 300.
"They did a good job of keeping us off-balance," San Francisco linebacker Ken Norton said. "They kept us on our heels."
Beuerlein completed 27 of 38 passes on an afternoon when his biggest problem appeared to be figuring out where he was midway through the second quarter. The Panthers broke from the huddle on a third-and-6 from their own 31-yard line and Beuerlein, a 13-year NFL veteran, lined up under left guard Matt Campbell instead of center Frank Garcia. When an embarrassed Beuerlein finally realized his error, the play clock had nearly expired and he had to call a timeout.
"To be honest with you, I thought everybody else was all screwed up," a smiling Beuerlein said. "I've been hit in the head a few times. It's hard for me to keep that stuff straight."
It didn't matter. By that stage, the Panthers had already built a 24-10 lead, thanks largely to the work of wide receivers Muhsin Muhammad and Patrick Jeffers.
Muhammad had 11 receptions for 126 yards, including scoring passes of 8, 14 and 7 yards.
Jeffers, who became a starter eight games ago when Carruth went down with a sprained ankle, had his second consecutive strong game, catching eight passes for 138 yards and one score.
Jerry Rice had his 180th career touchdown, a 48-yard scoring pass, but it was hardly enough to prevent the 49ers from losing for the ninth time in 10 games.
On Carolina's first two drives, Beuerlein completed seven of eight passes for 104 yards and two scores to Muhammad. The lone drop came on a ball that hit tailback Fred Lane squarely between the numbers.
Notes: San Francisco defensive tackles Bryant Young and Junior Bryant both were sidelined in the fourth quarter, Young with a bruised right knee cap and Young with a laceration on his right shin. Carolina cornerback Eric Davis needed eight stitches for a laceration on his right thumb in the second quarter, but returned and intercepted a pass in the third. ... Rice has caught at least one pass in 208 consecutive games and Norton has started 142 in a row, the longest active streak among NFL linebackers. ... Beuerlein's 368 passing yards Saturday gave him 8,375 for his career with Carolina, moving him past the 8,306 of Kerry Collins. ... Former Panthers linebacker Sam Mills and Mike McCormack, the team's first president, had their names placed on the facade of Ericsson Stadium's upper seating bowl Saturday. They are the first two people recognized by the team in such fashion.
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