Steve Beuerlein picked apart the San Francisco 49ers' secondary for 368 yards and four touchdowns today, leading the surging Panthers to a 41-24 victory.

Beuerlein has thrown for an NFL-best 3,851 yards this season, helping the Panthers to seven games of at least 30 points, which is one more than they had in their first four seasons combined. Today's point total was their highest since scoring 45 against St. Louis in October 1996.

More importantly, Carolina (7-7) has won five of seven, keeping the Panthers in the thick of the chase for an NFC wild-card berth.

"I don't know if I've ever been so excited to get to .500," said Panthers Coach George Seifert, who is in his first season coaching the Panthers after an eight-year stint at San Francisco in which he compiled the best winning percentage in NFL history.

Most of the Panthers' late-season surge has come while the team has struggled to deal with the distractions created by what authorities say was a plot by wide receiver Rae Carruth to kill his pregnant girlfriend. Carruth, Carolina's first-round draft pick in 1997, is being held without bond on first-degree murder and other charges and has been cut by the team. His girlfriend, Cherica Adams, was buried today, about three hours before kickoff.

"I can't say that it doesn't bother the team," Seifert said. "You have to handle it within yourself and you still have your jobs and responsibilities and your families to deal with and take care of."

The events associated with Carruth over the past five weeks didn't seem to be much of a problem for the Panthers today as they sent San Francisco (4-10) to its first 10-loss season since 1980. The 49ers have allowed at least 40 points five times this year.

"While guys are playing hard and seemingly doing the best they can, opponents find a way to attack our secondary," Coach Steve Mariucci said.