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SAN FRANCISCO — The 10-9 loss to Carolina was reminiscent of an earlier loss at Seattle, and for all the wrong reasons. Not only did the 49ers' offense get crushed by both opponents. San Francisco came out of both games with a litany of injuries.

This time, tight end Vernon Davis and rookie free safety Eric Reid both left the field with concussions. In addition, defensive lineman Ray McDonald injured his ankle, backup tight end Garrett Celek strained a hamstring and left guard Mike Iupati briefly left the game with a knee injury.

The scariest injury was Reid's. He lay flat on the turf for several minutes after colliding with 245-pound fullback Mike Tolbert in the third quarter, before walking off the field under his own power. But most damaging to the 49ers' game plan was Davis' concussion. He landed on his head when Carolina safety (and former Raider) Mike Mitchell threw him down on a second-quarter incompletion that the Panthers argued was a fumble. With Davis out, San Francisco was down to one tight end, rookie Vance McDonald.

"I'm sure it's a huge difference," center Jonathan Goodwin said of losing Davis. "Those guys don't have to worry about Vernon's speed in the passing game.<NO1> Vernon's a rare tight end that can stretch the field, so I'm sure it helps them to not have Vernon out there.<NO>"

There was no immediate indication of the extent of any of the medical issues.

"Hopefully none of the injuries are too bad," Goodwin said. "But we think we have a deep team, and if some guys can't play then some guys are gonna have to step up. It's part of this business."

ALDON IN A RUSH TO GET BACK

Sunday marked the return of outside linebacker and sack specialist Aldon Smith, who took a five-game leave of absence after wrecking his car into a tree while driving drunk. He was limited to 11 snaps against the Panthers, failing to dent the stat sheet though he did add some pressure on Carolina quarterback Cam Newton.

Asked whether he was OK with such a diminished workload, Smith answered: "Not really. I'm a competitor and I want to be on the field — but whatever works."

Could he have played every down? "Yes," Smith said.

Smith's replacement in the starting lineup, Dan Skuta, played well. Skuta, a fifth-year veteran, wound up with four tackles, two pass breakups and a hit on Newton. Nevertheless, Smith is a true game-changer with 38 sacks in 36 NFL games, and his teammates were happy to have him back.

"Oh, it's special to see a dominant player like that back," cornerback Tarell Brown said. "We welcomed him back. Had limited snaps, but I think his snaps will increase a lot more this week."

RECEIVING SOME GOOD NEWS

Another 49er back in the fold was wide receiver Mario Manningham, who saw his first action of 2013 after sitting out San Francisco's first eight games while recovering from a knee injury that he suffered last December. Manningham started against Carolina and led the 49ers with three catches for 30 yards, including a 14-yard gain on a third-and-10 play late in the game.

"I'm cool. My knee's cool, held up, but I'd have been better if we'd have won," Manningham said.

TWEET IT

Niners linebacker NaVorro Bowman on a pass by Newton that he tipped but couldn't intercept: "Yeah, I pushed the button on my cleats so I could jump a little higher. I knew that he had a low trajectory with his ball, but I just have to jump a little higher."

EXTRA POINTS

= The last time the 49ers' defense held an opponent to 10 points or fewer and lost was Oct. 7, 2007, in a 9-7 loss to Baltimore.

= The Panthers trailed at halftime (9-7) for the first time this season.

= Phil Dawson's 52-yard field goal was his longest with the 49ers.

= Over their past six games, the 49ers have converted all 15 of their takeaways in to points<NO1> (nine touchdowns, six field goals)<NO>.

= San Francisco's revamped kick-return game featured LaMichael James on punt returns and Anthony Dixon on kickoffs.

= The 49ers converted just 2 of 13 third-down plays, or 15 percent.

= LB Ahmad Brooks notched the second three-sack game of his career.