Panthers Reach .500 to Stay Afloat in Playoff Chase
George Seifert is happy to have the Carolina Panthers at the .500 mark for the first time since December 1997. His players have a bigger goal in mind.
Steve Beuerlein picked apart San Francisco’s secondary for 368 yards and four touchdowns Saturday, leading the surging Panthers to a 41-24 victory.
Carolina (7-7) has won five of seven, keeping the Panthers in the thick of the chase for an NFC wild-card berth.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever been so excited to get to .500,” said Seifert, who is in his first season coaching the Panthers after an eight-year stint at San Francisco in which he compiled the best winning percentage in NFL history.
“To accomplish this might not seem like much, but for us at this point, it’s pretty important.”
But not as important as a playoff berth, which is something the Panthers haven’t earned since winning the NFC West in 1996.
“I know we need some help the rest of the way,” tight end Wesley Walls said. “But it’s Christmas, and I’ve got a wish list. I hope everybody loses so we can get in the playoffs.”
If Carolina qualifies for the postseason, a big reason will be Beuerlein, who has thrown for an NFL-best 3,851 yards, helping the Panthers to at least 30 points in seven games. That’s one more than they had in their first four seasons combined. Saturday’s point total was their highest since scoring 45 against St. Louis in October 1996.
“The best we could do right now is get to 9-7,” Beuerlein said. “If it’s good enough, great. If it’s not, we did our best.”
The late-season surge has come while the Panthers have struggled to deal with the distractions created by what authorities say was a plot by Rae Carruth to kill his pregnant girlfriend. Carruth, Carolina’s first-round draft pick in 1997, is being held without bond on first-degree murder and other charges and this week was released by the team. His girlfriend, Cherica Adams, was buried Saturday, about three hours before kickoff.
“I can’t say that it doesn’t bother the team,” Seifert said. “You have to handle it within yourself and you still have your jobs and responsibilities and your families to deal with and take care of.”
The events associated with Carruth over the last five weeks didn’t seem to be much of a problem for the Panthers on Saturday as they sent San Francisco (4-10) to its first 10-loss season since 1980.
The 49ers have given up at least 40 points five times.
“While guys are playing hard and seemingly doing the best they can, opponents find a way to attack our secondary,” Coach Steve Mariucci said.
The Panthers finished with 452 yards, marking the sixth consecutive game they have gained at least 300.
“They did a good job of keeping us off-balance,” San Francisco linebacker Ken Norton said. “They kept us on our heels.”
Beuerlein completed 27 of 38 passes and Muhsin Muhammad had 11 receptions for 126 yards, including scoring passes of eight, 14 and seven yards. Patrick Jeffers caught eight passes for 138 yards and one score.
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