The Big Play

The situation: Three minutes, 33 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, Carolina leading 30-27, and the 49ers facing a second-and-7 play at their own 41-yard line.

On San Francisco's previous possession, quarterback Tim Rattay was hit on a blitz by Carolina linebacker Will Witherspoon and lost a fumble, a turnover the Panthers turned into a 34-yard Todd Sauerbrun field goal that gave them their first lead since the third quarter.

Two plays after Sauerbrun's go-ahead kick, Witherspoon was after Rattay again – and the Panthers were at it again.

Trailing this time, Rattay attempted once more to lead the 49ers downfield for the tying or go-ahead score. On first down, he scrambled for three yards before being dropped by Witherspoon.

On second down, Rattay wasn't so fortunate.

Witherspoon came again through the middle on a blitz and the Niners – attempting to set up a screen pass to the right side – left him unblocked.

As Witherspoon got in Rattay's face, the hurried quarterback attempted to unload the pass quickly in the flat toward halfback Maurice Hicks.

It never got there.

"I was trying to throw the ball away on a screen," Rattay said. "And the guy (Witherspoon) hit me. And then (another) guy made a good play on the screen."

The other guy was defensive tackle Brentson Buckner, a former 49er who grabbed Rattay's short pass before it could reach the flat.

"Their quarterback was just trying to make a play under pressure," Buckner said. "I didn't do anything spectacular on the play. I just happened to be in the right spot."

Buckner returned the pick eight yards to the San Francisco 25. Two plays later, Carolina quarterback Jake Delhomme connected on his third touchdown pass to receiver Muhsin Muhammad, this one a 26-yarder that drove a stake through the 49ers and provided the Panthers with the game's final points and an insurmountable 10-point cushion.

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