Saturday night in San Francisco saw one of the most spectacular performances ever put on by a quarterback in NFL postseason history. Colin Kaepernick broke the record for most running yards by a quarterback in any game, postseason or regular, with 181 yards on 16 carries with two touchdowns. He also threw for 263 yards and two touchdowns. The night was his, and the team as a whole set many franchise postseason records en route to a 45-31 victory over the visiting Green Bay Packers.
The game was back and forth going into halftime, with the 49ers holding a slim lead, 24-21. The second half, however, belonged to San Francisco. After Green Bay kicked a field goal for the first points of the third quarter to pull even, the 49ers reeled off touchdowns on their next three drives, scoring 21 unanswered points and putting the game out of reach with a comfortable 45-24 lead. Aaron Rodgers led Green Bay on one last scoring drive to make the score respectable on paper only, as even that last touchdown was questionable, after Tarell Brown was flagged for pass interference on a play in which he intercepted the ball in the end zone.
Kapernick's day didn't get off to a good start. On the first drive of the game, his second pass play, Kaepernick made an ill-advised throw intended for Vernon Davis that Sam Shields jumped in front of and returned 52-yards for a touchdown. Mistakes were nonexistent after that and the read-option led the way. Green Bay appeared to have no answer for Kaepernick on the ground and his two touchdown runs, a 20-yarder in the first quarter to even the score at 7-7, and a 56-yard dash, the first of the three straight scoring drives, will be talked about for some time.
Much of the credit for the 49ers' success on the ground lies with the offensive line. As a unit, they proved to be second to none, mauling Green Bay. They allowed one sack and only four hurries on the game. Joe Staley played much of the game hurt against Clay Matthews, who torched him for 2.5 sacks in their Week 1 matchup. Mike Iupati and Anthony Davis paved the way on the ground, with Davis sealing off the edge frequently. Downfield blocking by the receivers and tight ends, a hallmark of the team's run game under Coach Harbaugh helped Kaepernick on his longer runs. Frank Gore had a great game as well, getting over 100 yards for the first time in the postseason. He finished the game with 23 rushes for 119 yards and a score.
Michael Crabtree was the star in the passing game as Kaepernick's favorite target. He finished the game with 9 catches for 119 yards and two touchdowns. His two scores were in the second quarter, when the outcome of the game was still in question. The second score, in particular, was on a perfectly run in route on a perfectly thrown ball that hit Crabtree a few steps after his break. The chemistry between the young signal caller and his favorite receiver has been on full display since Kaepernick took over under center and appears to be growing as the weeks roll on. It should be a feature of the 49ers passing game for the rest of the postseason and years to come.
Other offensive records to fall on the night include the franchise record for most rushing yards in postseason history for an individual (Kaepernick) and the team with 323 yards. The most total yards in franchise postseason history was toppled with a whopping 579 yards amassed. The team became the first in NFL history to have two 100-yard rushers and a 100-yard receiver in a postseason game, with Crabtree and Gore topping the century mark.
Green Bay's defense appeared tired as the game wore on. Dealing with the 49ers offense when they're running as well as they did can do that to a team. It's no stretch to think that back to back encounters with the Minnesota Vikings and their all-world running back and MVP candidate Adrian Peterson took its toll on the Packers' run stoppers. They weren't able to match the 49ers energy level, physicality or speed and GM Ted Thompson even noted that what the 49ers did was amazing.
The Niners' defense started the game slowly. They took the field for the first time with the game tied 7-7 thanks to Kaepernick's early gaffe and the makeup touchdown run on the following drive. They had trouble getting Aaron Rodgers off of the field in the first half and were unable to generate much of a pass rush in the game, which was considered by many to be a key to the game. The secondary played tremendously, though, limiting Rodgers to 257 yards passing and a pair of scores to go with an interception. Had the aforementioned Tarell Brown interception not been waived off, Rodgers would have finished with 1 TD, 2 INTs.
One of the things the 49ers' defense has done well all year was limit yards after catch and Saturday's game was no different. All season long, against the better passing attacks in the league, the defense kept the ball in front of them, not allowing the deep ball, while wrapping up receivers and laying hard hits on anyone in their way. One standout was Brown, who according to Pro Football Focus, only allowed 2 catches for 16 yards on throws into his coverage and had an interception of Rodgers that he returned 39 yards to set up Michael Crabtree's first touchdown score. Patrick Willis also played well, with a team-high 7 tackles and the lone sack of Rodgers.
The 49ers have had let downs all season long, following up big wins with baffling losses. They take on the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship Game this Sunday in Atlanta after the Falcons dispatched the Seahawks in a hard-fought affair. The Falcons have a team that shares many similarities with the Packers and the 49ers will go into the game as the favorite. When the 49ers play to their maximum capabilities, they're unstoppable. The list of teams they've beat, and the ways in which they've beat them is as good as anyone in the league. They also have inexplicable losses to the Vikings, Rams and Giants, games in which they started slow and had trouble showing focus, not to mention the complete destruction at the hands of the Seahawks in Week 16. Keeping focused moving forward will be key, but after last weekend, the team has to like what they see, while the rest of the playoff field has been put on notice.