So much for the idea that Carolina hadn't beaten any team of consequence thus far.
"I don't think it really bothers us, it gives us the opportunity to step up to the challenge. We did," said receiver Steve Smith, who had six receptions. "A win like this can boost us, a win like this can continue to give us life throughout the season and make us feel like we're working for something, and we are."
Graham Gano kicked a 53-yard field goal with 10:05 remaining that held up as the Panthers (6-3) twice shut down Kaepernick on last-ditch drives with swarming defense.
DeAngelo Williams broke two tackles for a 27-yard touchdown run late in the first half that pulled Carolina within 9-7. Gano missed wide left on a 48-yard field goal in the third period, but came through later.
Kaepernick went 11-for-22 for 91 yards with an interception and was sacked six times for a 42.0 passer rating. Carolina's Newton was only slightly better, going 16 of 32 for 169 yards, an interception and four sacks for a 52.7 rating.
"This one really did come down to the way the defense played," Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. "Any time you put yourself in a position where you can force the other team to kick field goals, you get a chance to win."