Aldon Smith was in uniform Sunday for the first time since Sept. 22, but the outside linebacker only had a bit role on a defense that sacked Carolina's Cam Newton four times and got a hand on him on six other occasions.
As was the case during the five games Smith missed while enrolled at an out-of-state treatment program, Dan Skuta started at right outside linebacker with rookie Corey Lemonier initially entering the game on passing downs.
Smith played two snaps in the first half with his first coming with 13:02 left in the second quarter. He was on the field more in the second half - primarily on third downs - and was in the game for about a dozen snaps total. In the first three games of the season he had played 95 percent of the 49ers defensive plays.
The limited role wasn't a surprise. "Yeah, I was aware that I wasn't going to play too much," Smith said.
Is he ok with that? "Not really," Smith said. "I'm a competitor, and I want to be on the field. But whatever works. The season is so long, we'll see how it goes."
Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said the snap percentage was designed to ease Smith back into the game after a month and a half away from it. "It had nothing to do with punishment or anything like that," Fangio said.
Smith did not accumulate any statistics in the game. Instead the team's other long-time starter at outside linebacker, Ahmad Brooks, stood out with three sacks while Patrick Willis added one of his own. The three sacks tied a career high for Brooks and gave him the team lead over Smith in that category. Brooks now has 6 ½ on the season; Smith has 4 ½.
"He's motivation for me to do a good job," Brooks said of Smith. "He's probably the best pass rusher in the NFL, to be honest with you. ... I get a chance to watch what he does in practice, I get a chance to watch what he does in the game and just try to implement that in my game as much as possible."
Reid injured - Rookie safety Eric Reid had to be helped from the field in the third quarter after suffering a concussion when he collided with 245-pound Panthers running back Mike Tolbert.
It was the second time this season Reid has been knocked from the game with a concussion. He also suffered one during a Week 2 loss to the Seahawks. Reid did not miss the following week's game earlier this year, but at least one teammate hoped he'd take his time with his latest injury.
"To see him go down today, it's unfortunate and I pray that he'll be ok," Willis said. "But (I) also pray that he does the right thing and take the kind of time that you need. I think this is his second time going down like that. So at the end of the day it's about your health."
Ginn's game - Panthers receiver Ted Ginn, who had two catches for one yard last season for the 49ers, finished with two catches for 19 yards on Sunday. One of them was an 11-yard reception at game's end that gave Carolina a first down and helped them run down the clock.
Ginn also had three punt returns for 65 yards. He missed a chunk of the third quarter while dealing with leg cramps. "He was excited, he was amped up," said fellow receiver Steve Smith of Ginn. "I think he had to leave at halftime to get an IV."
Et cetera - Defensive end Ray McDonald suffered a sprained ankle in the second quarter and did not return to the game.
* Phil Dawson's 52-yard field goal in the first quarter was his longest of the season.
* Traimaine Brock's second-quarter interception was his fourth of the season. That leads the 49ers.
-- Matt Barrows