CHARLOTTE -- As quarterbacks go, Cam Newton is a load. He's 6-foot-5, 245 pounds with good speed. His combination of size and speed makes him a rare breed even among running quarterbacks. Beating Carolina begins with stopping Newton's runs.

That's where Ahmad Brooks stepped in.

As part of the scheme to shut down Newton, he was moved to middle linebacker -- a return to his natural position. And he made the plan work, finishing with 2.5 sacks.

Brooks usually plays more of a defensive end in the 49ers' 3-4 scheme, a pass-rushing linebacker. He's often overshadowed by All-Pro cohorts Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman and sack specialist Aldon Smith. But Sunday, Brooks accomplished one of the biggest tasks of the game. He brought down Newton. Each time proved to be huge for a 49ers defense that took awhile to get its bearings.

"He was all excited all week," Patrick Willis said.

On one play in the first half, he may have even been a bit over-excited. With Newton driving the Panthers from the 49ers' 2-yard-line, Brooks guessed on the snap count and dove over the top of the Carolina line -- and over Newton -- before the ball was snapped. But one play later the 49ers had another red-zone stop.

Despite Newton carving up the Panthers most of the first half, the 49ers defense had only surrendered 10 points at the half. That was largely because Brooks managed to bring down Newton at critical moments.

Carolina decided to go for it on fourth and inches on the opening play of the second quarter. The QB keeper was the obvious call when Newton is your quarterback. But he was met at the goal line and stopped dead in his tracks by Brooks, preserving San Francisco's 6-0 lead.

"I go against offensive lineman every play," Brooks said. "So going against a quarterback isn't that hard."

Later in the second quarter, the Panthers had marched 79 yards to the 49ers' 1-yard line. Newton dropped back and, when he didn't see anything, started to scramble. He had a lane to a touchdown, but Brooks tripped him up for a sack.

The 49ers held on third down and forced a field goal, the second goal-line stand, which paved the way for the go-ahead score just before halftime.

"It was a big statement," Brooks said. "It let them know that we came here to play. It was a big momentum swing for us and that's what we needed to win this game."

In the third quarter, after the 49ers went ahead 20-10, Newton had the Panthers marching again. Under pressure, he was set to scramble and had escaped from the clutches of one defender. But there was Brooks to bring him down again. The eight-yard loss killed the drive.

Newton finished with 267 yards passing and a touchdown. He also rushed for 54 yards. But in the second half, he was neutralized.

He connected on 8 of 15 passes for 131 yards in the second half. He managed just 14 yards rushing after halftime and was sacked three times. It was the pressure that led to his second pick of the game, which sealed the 49ers' victory. The Brooks-at-middle-linebacker adjustment worked like a charm.

"Coach Vic put in that defense this week," Willis said. "At first when we were going over it in practice, we didn't feel comfortable. Usually it's just (Bowman) and I beside each other and we understand how we're going to play off one another. But it actually worked out great for us."

Contact Marcus Thompson II at mthomps2@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/ThompsonScribe.