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San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) runs against the Carolina Panthers during the second half of a divisional playoff NFL football game, Sunday, Jan. 12, 2014, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
NFL: Crabtree’s presence huge in 49ers’ 23-10 win
First Published Jan 13 2014 08:42 am • Last Updated Jan 13 2014 11:34 pm

Charlotte, N.C. • Michael Crabtree only had three catches for 26 yards in San Francisco’s 23-10 NFC divisional playoff win over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.

His numbers, however, hardly told the whole story of his contribution.

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The 49ers (14-4) made it seven straight wins since Crabtree returned from a torn Achilles on Dec. 1.

Anquan Boldin said Crabtree was one of the reasons he was able to spring free and catch eight passes for 136 yards, saying the Panthers turned their attention to double-covering Crabtree after his big game the previous week in a wild-card win at Green Bay.

"I guess they thought they were going to try and take Crab out of the game," Boldin said. "That’s the good part about our offense — we have weapons all around. Try and take one guy out, we still have two, three guys left who can make big plays."

The Panthers did a number on the 49ers in the last meeting.

They limited Kaepernick to 91 yards passing, 16 yards rushing and sacked him six times in a 10-9 win over the 49ers on Nov. 10.

But that was without Crabtree.

"It makes me very comfortable," Kaepernick said of having his full complement of receivers. "It opens the offense up. It spreads the defense out and they can’t just key in on one player."

All that stands in the way of the 49ers returning to the Super Bowl is beating the Seahawks in Seattle next Sunday.

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That’s no easy task.

Seattle beat the 49ers 29-3 this season, although that was without Crabtree in the lineup.

"Honestly we know it’s going to be a fight," linebacker Patrick Willis said. "Any way you look at it Seattle is a good football team. They won our division this year. Hopefully we can have a great week of practice and go up there and win the game that counts the most. We look forward to it. We are embracing it."

Five things we learned from San Francisco’s 23-10 win over Carolina:

EXPERIENCE MATTERS: The 49ers have been to the playoffs before and it showed.

The 49ers kept their composure while the Panthers struggled with mental errors. Carolina was penalized eight times for 73 yards including two unnecessary roughness penalties and an unsportsmanlike conduct.

In all the 49ers picked up five first downs on Carolina penalties.

"Guys played smart," Boldin said. "We played right up to the edge. In these games, you don’t want to hurt your team. That’s the thing you don’t want to do. You saw guys out there taking swings at guys. That’s just stupid."

Said Panthers coach Ron Rivera: "We have to learn and understand (that) we have to maintain our composure — and that falls on me."

OFFICIATING QUESTIONED: Several Panthers expressed concern over the officiating in Sunday’s game.

Safety Mike Mitchel took exception to a couple of calls, including the officials’ decision to penalize teammate Captain Munnerlyn for head-butting Crabtree in the first half, but not throwing a flag when Boldin did the same thing to him later on.

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