The loss was more than a devastating blow to already dismal playoff hopes. It was a sure sign that they are not nearly the team the Faithful hoped would come out for the 2010 season. Rather, they are who we feared they'd be.
Alex Smith injured his left shoulder when pass protectors failed to block Charles Johnson, who dropped Smith directly. Smith held onto the ball for a sack, and such was his last play of the day. The rest of the game was out of his hands.
Smith hadn't accomplished much since the 49ers' first drive, when he hit Vernon Davis for a 53-yard pass followed by a one-yard touchdown pass. It was more, however, than Carr would muster.
The defense played admirably for the 49ers' first three-and-a-half quarters. They helped set up San Francisco's second score when Nate Clements forced a fumble and Parys Haralson recovered. After a mixed Alex Smith drive, Joe Nedney kicked the go-ahead field goal.
It was the best of defenses, and it was the worst of defenses, however. On one play, they'd pressure Matt Moore, or stuff a running back in the backfield. Then Moore would complete a pass for a first down.
Through three quarters, the 49ers defense kept the Panthers to 13 points and won the turnover battle, and although they did give up a blown-coverage touchdown to David Getts, they continually forced their physical style of play on Carolina's offense.
Carr led the 49ers to a field goal in what translated to taking Frank Gore for a walk down the field.
The play of the day had to be Ray McDonald's interception return for a touchdown, which gave the 49ers a seven-point lead.
Bliss ended there though. Behind an ineffective David Carr, the 49ers offense took a seat, giving Carolina every opportunity possible to get back into the game. And the Panthers eventually took it.
Moore became untouchable at some point, as the 49ers gave the Panthers short sideline passes all the way, until yet another touchdown pass to Getts tied the game and nullified McDonald's touchdown.
Another pitiful showing on offense all but gave the Panthers the game. A long sideline pass, a couple of runs and a field goal later, Carolina had the lead for good.
David Carr could do nothing with the offense in just under a minute, and the game ended with a sigh of relief for Panthers fans, and just a sigh from the 49ers.
They are who we feared they'd be.
They're a team relying on an average quarterback, a mediocre power running game, a two-faced defense that has struggles terribly to close out games, mostly unremarkable special teams, a vast supply of unseasoned rookies and a grossly inexperienced coaching staff.
Most of all, they declared to the entire league Sunday that they can not win on the road against even the lowest rebuilding teams in the NFL.
Mathematical elimination has still not arrived in San Francisco, but if the 49ers can't handle the Panthers, hope for their 2010 season is about as plentiful as oxygen on the moon.
At 1-6 with their sole win coming against regional rival Oakland, the San Francisco 49ers need nothing short of a miracle just to pull a respectable record out of this year.