SAN FRANCISCO -- The new kids took over the block yesterday at 3Com Park.
The Carolina Panthers, playing nothing like a second-year team or a 10-point underdog, knocked the San Francisco 49ers off the pedestal they've stood atop for years and took control of the NFC West.
"All the marbles were on the table," said Carolina guard Frank Garcia, "and we took them."
The Panthers' 30-24 win clinched a playoff berth and gives them a chance to win the divisional title San Francisco has owned 12 of the past 15 years. To do it, the Panthers need to win the next two games -- over the Ravens and Pittsburgh -- at Ericsson Stadium, where Carolina is 6-0 this season.
"This is great, but we aren't satisfied with where we are," said Panthers coach Dom Capers.
But yesterday's win, Carolina's fifth in a row, thrust the Panthers into NFL prime time.
"I feel like this was the changing of the guard," said Panthers linebacker Carlton Bailey.
It's also likely to go down as the day Kerry Collins arrived as a premier NFL quarterback. He had the best game of his two-year career, completing 22 of 37 passes for 327 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
Because of Collins' play, the Panthers were able to do what hardly anyone believed possible -- win a shootout against the 49ers.
"I feel like I turned the corner today," Collins said. "It was great fun out there."
The Panthers scored a touchdown on their first drive and never trailed, but had to survive a furious comeback led by quarterback Steve Young, who passed for 393 yards and rushed for 63 more.
But it was an interception by Young that sealed this game.
With Carolina leading 30-24 with under five minutes remaining, a 33-yard scramble by Young helped get the 49ers to the Panthers 30.
Young's pass to Terrell Owens was high, and Owens couldn't hold it. The ball bounced to cornerback Eric Davis, who was guarding Owens. Davis bobbled the ball but held on and made the catch -- his fifth interception in the past six games.
The turnover came with 4: 35 left, and the 49ers never got the ball back.
Davis' presence with the Panthers was a double whammy for the 49ers, his former team. The player who replaced him at cornerback for San Francisco, Tyronne Drakeford, got burned constantly by the Carolina wide receivers, especially Willie Green.
Green caught seven passes for 157 yards, including a 20-yarder for a touchdown against Drakeford, who got yanked because he played so poorly.
Pub Date: 12/09/96