The return of Matt Moore to Carolina’s starting lineup Sunday did two things. It revived the Panthers’ sluggish offense, and it led the Panthers to their first win of 2010 in the first start of the third Matt Moore era in Carolina.
“It’s huge,” he said. “0-5 is not fun. Guys loved it, and we just need to continue this.”
Moore and a pair of rookie receivers led the Panthers on game-tying and game-winning drives in the final three minutes of the game, and kicker John Kasay made a 37-yard field goal with 39 seconds left in the game giving the Panthers a 23-20 victory over the San Francisco 49ers.
“There’s an old TV show called ‘The Wide World of Sports,’” head coach John Fox said. “Their mantra was the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. Unfortunately, we’ve experienced too much agony up to this point and it’s nice to see the smiles of a winning team.”
The game-tying drive had some redemption in it for Moore and receiver David Gettis. Moore threw a pass on fourth and 9 with 5 minutes 34 seconds left in the game to an open Gettis in the end zone. The pass, however, was behind Gettis, ricocheted off his face mask and fell incomplete.
“It was a play I’ve been making all week in practice,” he said. “It just didn’t happen.”
The two made up for the mistake less than four minutes later when they connected on a game-tying touchdown pass on the first play after the two-minute warning. The 23-yard touchdown pass tied the game at 20.
“He did an outstanding job,” receiver Steve Smith said. “When you have a drop like that with the circumstances, you could easily go in the tank. He didn’t. He stayed focused, stayed poised and obviously he caught the ball at a key moment in the game.”
Steve Smith was also back in action after suffering a leg injury two weeks ago against Chicago and missing a few practices. The Panthers’ all-time leader in touchdowns also returned to his old job – returning punts.
“It was like riding a bike,” he said. “The first one I got on the bike and kind of wobbled a little bit, but did pretty good. When I was back there, the guys got energized. It was fun.”
A pair of rookie receivers Sunday was Moore’s favorite target. He threw 15 combined passes to Gettis and Brandon LaFell, and the two rookies combined for 14 catches. Gettis caught eight for 125 yards and two touchdowns, and LaFell caught six for 91 yards.
“I think the young receivers really grew up fast today,” Moore said.
Moore completed 28 of 41 passes for 308 yards with two touchdowns, an interception, 16 passing first downs and ended the game with a 96.4 passer rating.
The fourth-year Panther also made a crucial mistake throwing an interception to San Francisco defensive end Ray McDonald. McDonald returned the interception 31 yards for a touchdown and a 20-13 lead with more than 12 minutes left in the game.
But David Carr also made a crucial mistake. Carr, the 49ers’ backup quarterback, was in the game for starter Alex Smith, who was injured on San Francisco’s first drive of the second half. Carr threw an interception to Carolina cornerback Richard Marshall, which gave Moore and the Panthers the opportunity to close out their first win of the season.
Moore completed a 35-yard pass to Brandon LaFell setting up Kasay’s game-winning field goal.
Kasay made three field goals Sunday against San Francisco. His 55-yard kick in third quarter, the second-longest of his career, gave the Panthers a 13-10 lead, and he made a 47-yard field goal in the first quarter.
Smith completed nine passes for 129 yards and a touchdown, and Carr ended the game on 5-of-13 passing for 67 yards and an interception. Frank Gore carried the ball 19 times for 102 yards for San Francisco. Gore and tight end Vernon Davis both had eight catches, and Davis led the team with 74 yards receiving and a touchdown.
San Francisco’s defense also limited the Panthers’ running game. DeAngelo Williams rushed for a team-high 44 yards, and Jonathan Stewart finished the game with only 29.
The 49ers struck first in the game on a 1-yard touchdown pass from Smith to tight end Vernon Davis for a 7-0 lead, and Kasay’s first field goal made it 7-3. San Francisco answered Kasay’s kick with a 24-yard field goal by Joe Nedney, and the Panthers answered on Gettis’ 18-yard touchdown catch with 2:28 left in the first half.
Nedney and Kasay traded two more field goals in the third quarter for a 13-13 tie, and McDonald’s interception made it 20-13 San Francisco. Moore said he didn’t know what happened on the play and he panicked when he saw a blitz coming from the left side of the defense.
The Panthers scored 10 unanswered points in the final 2:37 for the 23-20 victory.