While three straight wins over Minnesota, St. Louis and Tampa Bay started the conversation about the Carolina Panthers as a legitimate contender this season, it was a 10-9 road win over the San Francisco 49ers in Week 10 -- a game that featured the physicality of a rugby scrum -- that swayed the tide for many football followers about just how good this Panthers team was.
Fast-forward to next Sunday, when the teams will meet again, this time in Carolina in the divisional round of the playoffs.
In that Week 10 matchup Colin Kaepernick, who continued his postseason excellence in frozen Green Bay on Sunday afternoon, amassed 46 -- yes, 46 -- net passing yards in defeat, as the Panthers' relentless pass rush swallowed him up with six sacks.
None of those came from top pass-rusher Greg Hardy, as the Panthers were able to pierce the 49ers' protection both via edge pressures and second-level blitzes. (Linebackers A.J. Klein and Luke Kuechly each notched a sack.)
To state what is implicit: The 49ers must keep Kaepernick upright on Sunday, while Kaepernick must deliver a far better effort than his roughly 4 yards per 22 attempts he mustered back in early November.
While the bread and butter of the 49ers' offense is their versatile rushing attack, it will be the passing offense that dictates their success on Sunday in Charlotte.