Panthers tamed by 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers moved to within one game of a return to the Super Bowl with a 23-10 win over the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte.
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It was just the fourth time this season that the Panthers had given up more than 20 points in a game.
The 49ers - beaten in last year's Super Bowl by Baltimore - will play fierce NFC West rivals Seattle in next week's NFC Championship game, with the winners heading to New York for February's showpiece.
It will be a third consecutive NFC Championship game for the Niners and a 15th in team history, an NFL record.
San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick ran for one touchdown and threw for another, completing 15 of 28 passes for 196 yards. He also ran for 15 yards.
The visitors took a 6-0 lead after twice moving into scoring position and failing to punch it in for a touchdown, Phil Dawson kicking field goals of 33 and 49 yards.
Carolina hit back with Cam Newton's 31-yard touchdown pass to Steve Smith and they stretched their lead to 10-6 with Graham Gano's 24-yard field goal.
But the 49ers seized the initiative on the stroke of half time, capping a 12-play, 80-yard drive with Kaepernick's one-yard touchdown toss to Vernon Davis in the back right corner of the end zone.
The play was originally ruled no catch because Davis had not landed with two feet in bounds, but a video review overturned the call, with Davis shown to have dragged his left foot in the field of play before tumbling out of bounds.
That gave the NFC Westerners a 13-10 half-time lead and they stretched it to 20-10 just 6:07 into the third quarter with a four-yard touchdown run by Kaepernick.
Dawson added a 34-yard field goal with 7:41 remaining and Carolina could not respond.
Anquan Boldin had eight catches for 136 yards for the Niners and Frank Gore ran for 84 yards on 17 carries.
The 49ers held Carolina passer Cam Newton in check, intercepting him twice and sacking him four times, while stopping the Panthers offence twice on the one-yard line.
The Seahawks beat the 49ers 29-3 in Seattle in September but the 49ers avenged that regular-season loss with a 19-17 victory in December in San Francisco.
"We're a different team than we were the first time we played them up there," Kaepernick said. "We have a lot of key playmakers back and we will be ready to go."