Behind their athletic, record-setting new quarterback, the 49ers will be marching into Atlanta next…
49ers vs. Packers: Thumbs up and thumbs down
Thumbs up: Is Kryptonite the only thing that can stop Kaepernick? The Packers certainly fell well short of that task as Kap ran crazy through and around them for 181 yards on 16 carries, including touchdown sprints of 20 and 56 yards, in a truly jaw-dropping individual performance. In the process, Kaepernick set a franchise record for most rushing yards in a playoff game and a NFL record for most yards rushing by a quarterback in any game, surpassing the 173 yards Michael Vick rushed for during a regular-season game in 2002.
Thumbs down: And because it is customary at the finish of games that have already been won, Kaepernick knelt down for a 1-yard loss on the final two plays of the game to bring down his final numbers. Before he started kneeling in victory formation, Kaepernick had 183 yards rushing on 14 carries. But somehow, his final total still came out looking just as good.
Thumbs up: We could go on and on about Kaepernick – and maybe should – but there were other main contributors in San Francisco's offensive juggernaut, and of course the first who should be mentioned is running back Frank Gore, who kept slamming into the Green Bay defense while churning out 119 yards rushing on 23 carries, including a 2-yard TD burst that put the Niners in control to say on the first play of the first quarter.
Thumbs up: So add it all up, and that's 323 yards rushing for the 49ers, another franchise record for a postseason game.
Thumbs up: Kaepernick also did it with his arm, averaging a whopping 15.5 yards on his 17 completions while throwing for 263 yards, with more than half of his completions being grabbed by his go-to guy Michael Crabtree, who finished with game-high totals of nine receptions for 119 yards, including 12- and 20-yard touchdown receptions.
Thumbs up: Before Green Bay began its final offensive drive as a beaten team with 3:34 to play, Donte Whitner, Dashon Goldson, Carlos Rogers and several other San Francisco defenders were on the field dancing to the music during a break in the action, and why not? Before allowing the Packers to creep down the field 77 yards on 11 plays for a meaningless final touchdown, that defense had shut down the vaunted Green Bay offense in the decisive second half, allowing only three points over the final two quarters until the Packers tacked on their final TD with 57 seconds left in the game.
Thumbs down: Before Saturday's game even got started – which promised to be a long one anyway – the opening kickoff got pushed back a half hour before game-time to a 5:25 p.m start because the earlier AFC divisional game between Baltimore and Denver was headed for overtime. That made the promise of a long game going even deeper into the night, though San Francisco's knockout blow in the second half tightened the ending off a game that had a wild opening quarter that lasted 40 minutes.
Thumbs up: Enjoyed the a capella version of the national anthem by Huey Lewis and the News, the venerable Bay Area pop/rock group that has sung that tune more than a few times over the years before big games at Candlestick Park. As Huey crooned and his band hummed behind him, it brought back fond memories of the halcyon days of the 49ers dynasty, when Mr. Lewis used to pal around with the likes of Joe Montana.
Thumbs up: Lining up in shotgun formation, then shifting into the Pistol offense, then handing the ball right up the gut to Gore for their initial first down and good yardage on two of their first three plays was a confuse-you-then-punch-you-in-the-face start for the San Francisco offense. The Niners then proceeded to Pistol-whip the Packers throughout the game, with both Gore and Kaepernick getting several of their big runs on read options out of that formation.
Thumbs down: But denied his first read when Michael Crabtree slipped, Kaepernick looked like an inexperienced QB instead of a playoff QB when he scrambled left and hurried a throw off his back foot on San Francisco's fourth play that cornerback Sam Shields stepped in front of and returned 52 yards for a shocking touchdown on what might have been Kaepernick's worst pass so in his young career.
Thumbs up: But what Kaepernick giveth, he also quickly gets back. Immediately displaying the upside of his risk/reward nature, the 49ers got the ball back and Kaepernick took them down the field on an eight-play, 80-yard drive, capping off the crisp answer to Green Bay's first strike with what Kaepernick does best – breaking containment and jetting out of the pocket on a designed passing play to race untouched past a back-on-its-heels defense for a signature 20-yard touchdown to knot the score. "I had to bounce back," Kaepernick said.
Thumbs up: Kaepernick's second touchdown sprint was even more breathtaking as he faked a handoff on a read option, sprinted toward the right side, then cut up the field, and then … was gone. Kaepernick blew into the open field in and instant and the Green Bay defense never had a chance as Kap galloped 56 yards untouched again into the end zone for the longest run ever by a San Francisco quarterback and the TD that finally put the 49ers ahead to stay.
Thumbs up: It was an encouraging sign to see Justin Smith, cumbersome left elbow brace and all, slamming into offensive linemen and jamming into the Green Bay backfield several times on the Packers' early possessions. It was even more encouraging to see him still battling away at the end of the game. Smith finished with five tackles, and his ferocious style didn't appear diminished by the partially-torn triceps that forced him to miss San Francisco's previous two games. "From my eye it looked like he was stout against the run and his legend grows," Niners coach Jim Harbaugh said. "What a player."
Thumbs up: C.J. Spillman is a special teams coverage wizard with a nose for the football. Spillman never broke stride as he raced downfield to cover a punt early in the second quarter and instead ended up covering the football after Jeremy Ross muffed Andy Lee's punt at the 9-yard line, giving the Niners a huge break that they quickly turned into a touchdown and 14-14 tie. Spillman made another great play to bring down Randall Cobb at the 11-yard line for no gain after a 52-yard Andy Lee punt in the third quarter.
Thumbs up: Tarell Brown looked like Willie Mays running with his back to home plate in deep center field when Brown made an over-the-shoulder basket catch for an interception on a pass that Rodgers seemed to be trying to throw away deep down the middle of the field. Brown then returned his pick, the first interception thrown by Rodgers in his last 284 passes over six games, 39 yards into Green Bay territory to set up the touchdown that put the 49ers ahead for the first time late in the second quarter.
Thumbs down: Dashon Goldson is a first-team All-Pro safety this year and certainly deserves to be, but for a guy with that status he makes way too many pivotal errors in judgment by delivering late hits and/or helmet-to-helmet blows when ball carriers are on the ground or close to it. His latest 15-yard unnecessary roughness flag helped the Packers fly 80 yards down the field for their third touchdown on a drive that lasted fewer than three minutes, and Goldson could have been flagged for the same infraction on a Green Bay scoring drive in the third quarter.
Thumbs up: With Kaepernick setting up the Packers perfectly by looking the other way before throwing, Vernon Davis made an out-and-up move that left linebacker A.J. Hawk in the dust to reel in the big-play pass he has been waiting for since the end of November – a 44-yarder on the penultimate play of the third quarter to set up Gore's touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter that gave the Niners a commanding two-TD lead.
Thumbs up: The 49ers unleashed All-Pro linebacker Patrick Willis on blitzes like seldom before, and he was in Rodgers' face several times and harassed him into several incompletions while also dropping Rodgers for a nine-yard loss on San Francisco's only sack of the game.
Thumbs up: And after it all was over, somebody asked Kaepernick if he's a runner or a passer. "I don't want to be categorized," he replied. And so it was on this night of breakout performance on a national stage for a young, record-setting quarterback that defies categorization in today's NFL.
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