CHARLOTTE - The Carolina Panthers sent shock waves through the National Football League on Sunday.
Carolina (3-0) took sole possession of first place in the NFC West by whipping San Francisco 23-7 behind 290 yards passing and two touchdowns from backup quarterback Steve Beuerlein at Ericsson Stadium.
It was the second-year team's second win in three meetings with their division rival and one of the NFL's best teams. Carolina is one of four teams still unbeaten.
Both of Beuerlein's touchdown passes were to tight end Wesley Walls, a former San Francisco 49er. Beuerlein said there is no quarterback controversy in Carolina. Kerry Collins, who had a sprained left knee and did not play, is still No. 1.
"There is no doubt, Kerry's the man," Beuerlein said. "This is his team. I was brought in to do what I did today."
It was a performance that was appreciated by his teammates, particularly Walls who grabbed a career high six catches on a career-high 81 yards.
"Steve did a great job of getting me the ball," Walls said. "Our system gets a lot of credit, but what if I was in there at quarterback? Do you think we would have moved the ball like that? He took advantage of the opportunity." Carolina had 21 first downs and 407 yards of offense in the game.
"We looked like we were in another world out there," 49ers coach George Seifert said, "and Carolina certainly had a lot to do with it."
The Panthers dominated the first half in taking a 17-0 lead into intermission.
At halftime, San Francisco had just 66 yards.
"When we saw our defense being handled," Seifert said, "it permeated throughout the club."
Carolina marched 80 yards on nine plays on its first possession capped by a 19-yard touchdown pass from Beuerlein to Walls for a 7-0 lead.
"The offense was extremely productive today," Panther linebacker Kevin Greene said. "This shows everybody that we've got some talent on this team."
Beuerlein was 5-for-6 for 67 yards during the drive. Offensive tackle Blake Brockermeyer said the first Panther possession was huge.
"The first drive set the tone for the game and the entire state," Brockermeyer said.
On the Panthers' second possession, they marched 45 yards in five plays capped by former Georgia Bulldog John Kasay's 28-yard field goal to take a 10-0 lead with 4:35 remaining in the opening period.
The key play in the drive was a 38-yard pass from Beuerlein to wide receiver Willie Green down to the San Francisco 17-yard line.
Carolina outgained San Francisco 165-23 in the opening period and controlled the ball for 11 minutes and 11 seconds. Beuerlein was 9-for-10 for 141 yards in the opening period.
San Francisco gained gained 23 yards and had the ball for three minutes and 49 seconds in the first quarter.
"Really, the way to beat them is to keep that offense, Steve Young and Jerry Rice and those guys, on the sideline," Greene said. "It was a good game plan that we had today."
The Panthers continued their domination into the second quarter. On their third possession, Beuerlein connected with Walls for his second touchdown toss from 11 yards out as the Panthers took a 17-0 lead with 12:49 remaining in the half.
"He's going to be a consistent factor in our offense as the season goes on," Beuerlein said of Walls.
Beuerlein was brilliant. The ninth-year veteran completed 17-of-20 passes for 215 yards, two touchdowns and one interception in the first half. During one stretch, Beuerlein completed 11 passes in a row before being intercepted by 49er cornerback Marquez Pope in the end zone.
The Panthers outgained San Francisco 251-66 in the opening half and nearly doubled the time of possession (19:27-10:33). Carolina had 15 first downs compared to only three for San Francisco in the first two periods.
San Francisco never really threatened the Panthers in the second half.
"I think we got some respect," Walls said. "We took a big step. What we did today was special."
CHARLOTTE - Sunday was a special day for Carolina tight end Wesley Walls.
He provided a huge spark with six catches for 81 yards and two touchdowns as the Panthers ripped the San Francisco 49ers 23-7 at Ericsson Stadium Sunday.
Walls' performance was even more meaningful because he did it against one of his former teams. He also played for the New Orleans Saints.
"I try not to look back on that," said Walls of his time in San Francisco. "They can say whatever they want about me. We beat the 49ers. Ha! Ha! Ha!"
Walls said no one was happier than him when free agency came into the NFL.
"When free agency came, I was one of the happiest guys around," Walls said. "I was never going to get to play behind (49er tight end) Brent (Jones). I was glad to leave."
San Francisco coach George Seifert said the Panthers definitely have their respect. Carolina defeated San Francisco, 13-7, last season in 3COM Park. "They have our respect now," Seifert said. "There's no other way to get respect than to go out and beat somebody's butt like they did to our football team. They did a heck of a job."
Panther coach Dom Capers called the win a special feeling.
"Most importantly, the win today gives us three wins and three divisional wins,' Capers said. "The thing that I'm encouraged by is that I feel our team, in all three games, has done an outstanding job of preparation. The challenge that we are going to have now is good football teams have the unique ability to maintain their focus and continue to work hard and improve."
INJURY UPDATE: Former North Augusta and South Carolina product Matthew Campbell did not dress for the Panthers due to a leg injury.
Campbell, a second-year pro, is expected to practice this week and play in next week's contest with Jacksonville.
Quarterback Kerry Collins, who has a sprained left knee, said he's 50-50 for the Jacksonville game.
"It's still up in the air," Collins said.
FAN BOOST: Panther linebacker Kevin Greene said the fans didn't totally disrupt the San Francisco offense but they helped.
"I think the fans got us fired up today," Greene said. "We wanted to show everybody that we're a good team. The fans helped us tremendously."
FORMER 49ER: Eric Davis left San Francisco for Carolina via free agency in the offseason. He's trying to keep Sunday's win over his former mates in perspective.
"To get to the next level you have to beat those type of guys," said Davis of one of the NFL's best teams. "I feel the same way about the 49ers as I do any other team. I want to win."
Davis and fellow corner Tyrone Poole did a good job of not letting 49er superstar Jerry Rice break long runs after his catches. Rice caught 10 passes for 127 yards but no long touchdowns.
"We made plays and tried not to give up the big plays," Davis said.
Davis suffered a minor concussion in the second half that had coach Capersconcerned.
"We will have to evaluate that," Capers said.