Panthers penalties make it easy to cite playoff inexperience in lieu of bad officiating

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

It's an easy narrative to use in the first half in Carolina.

Sunday marks the first Panther playoff game since 2008, so this is the postseason debut for most of Carolina's roster, particularly on their young and very good defense. The Panthers, as one would expect, are quite wound up in the first quarter against last year's NFC Champions. But as soon as the defense took a few penalties for their excitable chippiness, the takes that they were showing their "lack of playoff experience" started raining down.

Indeed, the Panthers were hit with a couple penalties that immediately led to six San Francisco points. But it's a bit much to say this was all a lack of playoff experience. The first penalty flag came flying in for late hit by safety Mike Mitchell, who blasted Vernon Davis on a ball coming over the middle. It was a questionable call to say the least, with the tipped ball barely hitting the ground when Mitchell made contact on a hit that was not helmet-to-helmet. Even FOX's Troy Aikman deemed it a "terrible call" but the 15-yarder on third down put the Niners in range for Phil Dawson's first field goal of the day.

After a Cam Newton pick, the Panthers incurred back-to-back penalties on the Niners second possession of the day. The first came on a correctly called hold on Chase Blackburn (the refs misidentified him as Luke Kuechly). The Panther LB clearly grabbed Anquan Boldin as the WR went across his chest. The next flag, however, was thrown for another after-the-play infraction when Captain Munnerlyn was hit for head butting Michael Crabtree. It wasn't much -- just the end to a little testy encounter in which Munnerlyn put his facemask into Crabtree (via GifdSports):

Munnerlyn_headbutt_medium

That flag is slightly more acceptable than the garbage call on Mitchell, but it was probably best to just let it go and separate the two players instead of impacting a playoff game.

In addition to those three penalties, there was also just persistent jawing and chippiness throughout the first quarter, whether is was Munnerlyn, Mitchell, or All-Pro Luke Kuechly getting into it with Boldin and Anthony Dixon on two separate occasions.

In reality, the frequent penalties were probably the result of some flag-happy refs at the start of an intense playoff game. But the fact that the Panthers were playing in their first postseason game in some time made it easy to say their lack of experience resulted in a quick six for San Fran. Oh, and the inexperienced Panthers have already erased that deficit.

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