CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Matt Moore made the most of his second chance, David Gettis atoned for a big drop, and the big mistake this time was made by the other team's quarterback.
It added up to Carolina's long-awaited first victory and left downtrodden San Francisco worried about another shoulder injury to Alex Smith.
With Smith watching in a sling, backup David Carr threw into double coverage with just over a minute left on Sunday. Richard Marshall's interception led to John Kasay's 37-yard field goal with 39 seconds left and the Panthers beat the 49ers 23-20 for their first win in six tries.
It made Moore, who threw for 308 yards and two scores after getting his starting job back, celebrate like the successful team in San Francisco, the Giants.
"To get a taste of how it feels, you saw those guys celebrating for the baseball last night," Moore said of the Giants clinching a World Series berth Saturday. "That is what it was like without all the bottles. It was awesome. Guys loved it."
It sure was improbable.
The Panthers (1-5) tied it when the rookie Gettis, who had dropped a touchdown pass earlier in the fourth quarter on fourth down, made a diving 23-yard TD grab with 1:53 left.
Carr, who struggled in his lone season in Carolina in 2007, then gave the Panthers a gift. Marshall's pick gave Carolina the ball at its own 43. Moore, who had an interception returned for a TD earlier in the quarter, found Brandon LaFell for 35 yards to set up Kasay's winner.
The Panthers, the NFL's youngest and lowest-scoring team who failed to reach double digits in points in their previous three home games, celebrated like, well, they were going to the World Series.
"It feels good," said four-time Pro Bowl receiver Steve Smith, who volunteered to return punts to spark Carolina. "It feels great."
The 49ers (1-6), who were to fly directly to London after the game to face Denver next week, have a tough road in the NFC West and uncertainty at quarterback.
Smith, who threw a touchdown pass to Vernon Davis on the first series, was driven to the turf by Charles Johnson for a sack on San Francisco's first possession of the second half. He immediately winced in pain and remained on the ground for several minutes.
Smith walked to the locker room and said he feared has a separated shoulder. He said the injury felt a lot like the one in 2007 to his throwing shoulder and was planning to fly to London and get an MRI there on Monday.
"Just as far as pain, probably not quite as (painful as 2007)," Smith said. "The X-rays were negative, no breaks. We'll just look at the MRI and see what it says."
It looked for a while as if the Panthers would still give the 49ers their second straight win.
Moore was playing well — by far the best quarterback performance of the season for the Panthers — when he inexplicably hurried a dump-off throw right into the hands of Ray McDonald.
The 6-foot-3, 290-pound defensive tackle then ran over Moore on his 31-yard touchdown return that snapped a tie with 12:52 left.
The Panthers, though, then began an impressive drive that seemed to stall at the San Francisco 16 with just under 6 minutes left. But normally conservative coach John Fox decided to go for it on fourth-and-9.
Moore then found Gettis wide open in the center of the end zone — and he dropped the pass.
"I'm thankful that I got a second chance," Gettis said.
Moore, who came in completing just 42 percent of his passes and was benched for Jimmy Clausen after Week 2, was 28 of 41 with both TDs to Gettis. The sixth-round pick had eight catches for 125 yards, by far the best performance by a receiver not named Steve Smith.
"When you have a drop like that with the circumstances, you could easily go in the tank," Smith said of Gettis. "He didn't."
Frank Gore rushed for 102 yards for San Francisco, which hasn't won a non-divisional road game since Nov. 30 at Buffalo. Carr's miserable 5 of 13 performance for 67 yards didn't help.
The 49ers, who had 11 penalties, had to shuffle their offensive line when Adam Snyder replaced Chilo Rachal (stinger) in the first quarter. Left tackle Joe Staley left briefly with the same injury, and San Francisco managed just 282 yards.Comment on this story
But just like owner Jed York's bold claim after the NFC West favorites started 0-5, coach Mike Singletary still thinks they can become the first club to start this poorly and play in the postseason.
"There's no doubt in my mind that somehow, someway, we will regroup and keep fighting," Singletary said. "We're going to make a season of it, and I still believe we can go to the playoffs. I still believe we can get those things done."
Notes: Kasay kicked a 55-yard field goal, the 40th of 50 or more yards in his career. ... It's the third straight year a team has played Carolina before going to London. ... 49ers LB Patrick Willis had a team-best 11 tackles.