CHARLOTTE, N.C. - In a game marked by personal-foul penalties and after-play headbutts, the 49ers players kept their cool.
But their head coach didn't.
"I dodged a bullet," Jim Harbaugh said of being flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct just before halftime. "A couple of players told me to get my butt off the field, 'We can't have that.' They were right."
The ever-animated Harbaugh drew the penalty when he charged onto the field following an end-zone pass to Vernon Davis that originally was ruled incomplete but later was overturned for a touchdown. Harbaugh said he was more concerned that the clock kept ticking than he was the officials' ruling.
"I watched it go, 9, 8 (seconds), and then I ran out for them to see the scoreboard and it ticked, 7, 6, 5 as he was throwing the flag on me," Harbaugh said. "But I was just trying to get somebody's attention to look at the scoreboard."
The cooler heads on the 49ers sideline belonged to the players, including receiver Anquan Boldin and Colin Kaepernick, who told their coach to get back to the sideline. "I had to grab him and tell him, 'Don't cost us,'" said Boldin, who led all receivers with 136 yards. "He understood."
The game featured three other personal-foul calls after the whistle, all of them on the Panthers. Two in the first quarter, including a head-butting penalty on Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, extended 49ers drives that led to field goals.
Safety Donte Whitner said the 49ers were the more composed team. "We expected it," he said. "We've been here. This is not our first time. We were not excited. We didn't have (entertainer) Flo Rida coming in and playing at halftime and all those different things. Because we expected to here. We really felt like it was another game to us. I don't know if it was their Super Bowl but it was another game to us."
Crabtree hurting? - Receiver Michael Crabtree missed three plays on the team's opening drive following a hard tackle by Munnerlyn. After the game, Crabtree said he hurt his shoulder but that he would be fine.
"It's football," he said. "I came out a couple of plays. But you know me, I'm a warrior. I go back in there. I feel like (the tackle) was unnecessary, but it's cool." Crabtree was targeted seven times and finished with three catches for 26 yards.
A more serious injury occurred to fullback Will Tukuafu, who suffered a sprained knee when he was tackled awkwardly from behind following a two-yard reception, the first of his career. Tukuafu was walking after the game but did not play another snap following his injury.
Proven No. 1 - After the game, Frank Gore praised Carolina's All-Pro linebacker, Luke Kuechly, but he said his goal on Sunday was to prove that the best linebackers were in San Francisco, not Carolina.
"Going into the week, I told Patrick (Willis) and (NaVorro) Bowman I'm going to show the world we have two of the best inside linebackers in the league," said Gore, who finished with 84 yards
Willis and Bowman did just fine at showcasing their own skills, holding the Panthers to 10 points for the second straight meeting and shutting them out in the second half. The duo finished tied with a game-high 11 tackles, and Willis had a first-quarter interception.
"Coach Vic (Fangio) told us last night, 'I'm challenging you guys to come out and play the best defense you've played all year because that's what it's going to take,'" Willis said. "He talks all the time about packing the defense on the road. And I think, for the most part, we did that."
Et cetera - Kaepernick called his "Superman" end-zone celebration "just a little shout out" to Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, the originator of the routine. The two quarterbacks were roommates during the 2011 scouting combine. Newton was selected No. 1 in the ensuing draft.
* Harbaugh's grandfather, Joe Cipiti, who was on hand to watch his grandsons at the most recent Super Bowl, passed away Sunday morning in Ohio. The man the Harbaughs called Grampa Joe was 98.
* Crabtree and Ted Ginn swapped jerseys at the end of the game. The ex 49er led the Panthers with four catches for 104 yards and also averaged 13.5 yards on punt returns.
-- Matt Barrows