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49ers 23, Panthers 10

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Quarterback Colin Kaepernick threw for a touchdown and ran for a score as the San Francisco 49ers advanced to the NFC championship game for the third season in a row by defeating the Carolina Panthers 23-10 on Sunday afternoon.

Kicker Phil Dawson, who a week earlier booted the game-winning field goal as time expired at the Green Bay Packers, added three field goals in the NFC division playoff game at Bank of America Stadium.

The 49ers, who took the lead for good on the last snap of the first half, visit the Seattle Seahawks next Sunday for the NFC championship game.

The outcome ruined Carolina's first playoff appearance in five years. Quarterback Cam Newton, in his postseason debut, threw two interceptions, including safety Donte Whitner's pickoff after the Panthers moved into San Francisco territory in the last five minutes.

Kaepernick completed 15 of 28 passes for 196 yards. Running back Frank Gore added 84 yards on 17 carries.

Newton finished 16 of 25 for 267 yards.

Kaepernick ran 4 yards for a touchdown with 8:53 to go in the third quarter as the 49ers boosted their lead to 20-10.

Kaepernick then mimicked Newton's Superman pose in the end zone.

The Panthers held the ball for the next eight minutes, but back-to-back sacks after reaching 49ers territory forced a punt.

San Francisco chewed up another 7:52 to set up Dawson for his third field goal, the 34-yarder making it 23-10 with 7:41 left.

San Francisco held a 13-10 halftime lead after tight end Vernon Davis' 1-yard touchdown catch in the corner of the end zone with five seconds left in the half. The play was initially ruled incomplete pass until video review showed Davis had boot feet inbounds.

That was the 49ers' first touchdown in nearly six full quarters against Carolina, which won 10-9 in the regular season at San Francisco. The 12-play drive covered 80 yards.

Earlier in the quarter, Newton hit wide receiver Steve Smith with a 31-yard touchdown pass on the first play after wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr.'s 24-yard punt return. That put Carolina ahead, 7-6.

The Panthers moved inside the San Francisco 1 again later in the second quarter, but ended up with kicker Graham Gano's 24-yard field goal after going 73 yards in 13 plays.

San Francisco's first possession was extended by a third-down personal foul penalty on Carolina safety Mike Mitchell. But after linebacker Luke Kuechly's sack, the 49ers settled for Dawson's 49-yard field goal.

Following linebacker Patrick Willis' interception of Newton's deflected pass, another Carolina personal foul penalty put San Francisco in field-goal range again. Dawson converted from 33 yards out for a 6-0 lead with 4:33 left in the first quarter.

NOTES: The temperature was listed at 54 degrees at kickoff Sunday, a far cry from a week earlier when the 49ers played in sub-zero conditions at Green Bay. ... The Panthers were 10 for 13 on fourth-down conversions in the regular season, then were stopped on fourth-and-goal at the 49ers 1 on the first play of the second quarter. ... San Francisco FB Will Tukuafu suffered a knee injury on the game's first series after making a catch. He did not return. ... Panthers CB Quintin Mikell did not return from a second-quarter foot injury. ... 49ers CB Carlos Rogers, a starter, was inactive. ... 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh is the first NFL coach to win 13 or more games (including playoffs) in each of his first three seasons. ... This was the first postseason matchup between the 49ers and Panthers, who were NFC West rivals from 1995-2001.
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