For at least a week, Carolina's defense lived up to its once-proud reputation.
The defense limited San Francisco to 195 yards and 12 first downs while recording six quarterback sacks, 10 quarterback hurries, four interceptions and one fumble recovery.
Granted, the performance came against the offensively challenged 49ers, who are last in the league in several offensive categories.
For the Panthers defense, it was a needed big game.
"Once one guy gets one, it's a laughing, joking thing," linebacker Jon Beason said. "It's like, 'Oh, it's my turn now.' So they were just kinda taking turns, having fun and making plays."
"We know that we can always do that," Rucker said of the quarterback pressures. "When your offense puts points on the board and the defense gets turnovers and you have a lead, that forces that team to pass. Instead of us being in that situation, we put them in that situation. And now we can tee off and do what we do best."
Carolina grabbed a 17-0 lead in part because of Richard Marshall's 73-yard interception return in the first half. It was the largest lead of the season for the Panthers.
"I know that's helpful to have a lead," coach John Fox said. "When you get one-dimensional, it becomes easier to pressure the quarterback. I don't think that's a secret. ... That is helpful. You play closer to the vest when the game is tight, offensively and defensively. So, we've had quite a few runs on our defense this year. Nobody is pleased with our sack total, including us. But it's hard to get sacks when somebody is running it 44 times and throwing it 20. The odds are less. So it was good to be on the other end of that, and we need to get to that point moving forward."
Peppers considered it "as close as we've come all season to playing well for the whole game."
Carolina had recorded only 10 sacks in its first 11 games, which was tied for last in the league coming in.
The 49ers have now allowed 43 sacks in 12 games.
"It just happened like that (Sunday)," Peppers said. "There's no explanation for it. We study film every week."
--A few days after admitting he's contemplating retirement after the season, DE Mike Rucker turned in a game to remember.
It was Rucker's most dominant game since he had two sacks last November in a shutout win over the St. Louis Rams.
"We got sacks, we got fumbles, we got picks, we got touchdowns," Rucker said of the team's defensive performance. "This is what it's supposed to be about, and this is what we're kind of used to back in the day. We've kind of missed that here recently. Hopefully, we can keep this going."
The Panthers, who came into the game with just 10 sacks in 11 games, had six against Dilfer on Sunday.
--Lost in the emotion of Sunday's win was the fact that coach John Fox demoted QB David Carr to third string behind Vinny Testaverde and rookie Matt Moore. That would seem to suggest the Carr era is coming to an end in Carolina, even though he's under contract through the 2008 season.
"We wanted to get a look possibly (at Moore)," coach John Fox said. "There is no question we wanted Vinny to be healthy. Matt is a young guy we want to take a look at at some point. We've had our struggles with David. That is why we went with that decision."
Carr has a 58.3 passer rating.
--Testaverde was swarmed by teammates when he showed up to the stadium on Saturday.
"When I got here, everybody was asking me about my back and how I was feeling," Testaverde said with a laugh, reflecting back to the previous week when a back injury kept him out against New Orleans. "Same thing (Sunday) morning, so I was relieved that I was feeling all right. I'm starting to feel a little bit better health-wise. I'm excited about the next four games."
--On two occasions, the Panthers lined Testaverde up at receiver and Steve Smith at quarterback.
On one of those plays, the 49ers left Testaverde completely uncovered until just before the snap.
"When no one came over to cover me, I thought maybe Steve might throw it to me," Testaverde said. "But then maybe they thought, 'Well, he can catch, so we need to cover him.' I've done it a few times in my career, but I've never caught a pass, so I don't think I will be catching one anytime soon."
Smith did not address the media after Sunday's game.
--CB Richard Marshall was determined to make his second interception of the season count.
And he did, taking a Trent Dilfer pass back 73 yards for a touchdown, showing great speed while outrunning several San Francisco players.
"The thing that went through my head was don't drop it," Marshall said of the gift-wrapped interception. "The last time I got one in New Orleans, some of my teammates were telling me, 'Man, you should have got in the end zone but you tripped over your own feet.' This time I promised myself I'm not falling. I'm getting to the end zone."
--It had been 377 days between home wins for the Panthers.
Despite that, more than 56,000 fans showed up for Sunday's game between two struggling teams.
"Man, it's been a very long time," CB Ken Lucas said. "Over a year. You can't ever take anything for granted.
"Hopefully, we can take this win and build off of it and get ready for Jacksonville. We have always played better on the road, but it feels so good to get this monkey off our backs with not being able to win a game at home. You saw how cheerful our crowd was. I don't know if it was being sarcastic, but you saw how joyous because they haven't seen a win at home in over a year."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's good, but we've got to understand that we haven't arrived. We've still got four more games left. But it's a good stepping stone that guys aren't quitting and we're still putting the effort out there." -- DE Mike Rucker.
PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES
--TE Dante Rosario caught his first NFL pass on Sunday, good for a touchdown.
--WR Dwayne Jarrett was inactive on Sunday because of a knee injury.
--QB David Carr was demoted to third string Sunday against San Francisco.
--WR Steve Smith lined up all over the field on Sunday, including out wide, in the slot, at running back and even at quarterback. The Panthers made an effort to get Smith involved.
--RB DeAngelo Williams had 126 combined yards from scrimmage, including 82 on the ground.
REPORT CARD VS. 49ERS
PASSING OFFENSE: B-minus -- The passing game was far from perfect, but Vinny Testaverde got the job done. He threw for 153 yards with two touchdown passes and two interceptions for a passer rating of 74.7. He was sacked twice. Testaverde's interception at the start of the third quarter could have been costly, turning the momentum over to the 49ers. Smith was more productive than in recent weeks, finishing with 64 yards on eight catches.
RUSHING OFFENSE: B-plus -- The Panthers had good balance in the running game with DeAngelo Williams rushing for 82 yards on 17 carries (4.8 average) and DeShaun Foster picking up 58 yards on 21 carries with one touchdown. The Panthers mixed up things on offense, lining up Steve Smith (two carries, 21 yards) in the backfield a handful of times. As a team, the Panthers ran 44 times for 166 yards.
PASS DEFENSE: A -- The Panthers intercepted Trent Dilfer four times, with CB Richard Marshall returning one 73 yards for a touchdown. The Panthers had only 10 sacks through 11 games, but they came up with six sacks of Dilfer on Sunday. If there was one downside, it came in the third quarter when they allowed the 49ers to creep back in the game by giving up two Dilfer touchdown passes as San Francisco cut the lead to 17-14. Still, the overall effort for the other three quarters was pretty strong.
RUSH DEFENSE: B -- Frank Gore ran well against Carolina, averaging 4.8 yards per carry, but he simply didn't get enough carries because the 49ers trailed most of the game. Gore finished with 58 yards on 12 carries, and the 49ers were limited to just 59 yards. Jon Beason was extremely tough against the run.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B -- Carolina's coverage teams struggled most of the day, but they came up with one huge play that turned the momentum of the game. That came in the third quarter when Quinton Teal knocked the ball out of PR Michael Lewis' hands and Dante Rosario recovered at the San Francisco 11.
COACHING: B -- The Panthers mixed things up on offense, going with a few trick plays that included some reverses and using Smith on direct snaps. That is the type of creative thinking the Panthers have needed all season. The Panthers got a little conservative on offense to start the second half. Overall, defensive coordinator Mike Trgovac had a great game plan for attacking the 49ers. Of course, it helps when the team has a lead to work with.