Kaepernick, the second-year quarterback who had made seven career starts, stole the show with one of the great individual performances in NFL history to help the San Francisco 49ers crush the Green Bay Packers 45-31.
A 6-foot-5, 233-pound freak of nature, Kaepernick displayed his blazing speed, a rocket arm and some spectacular sleight of hand in absolutely destroying the Packers' defense and sending the 49ers to their second consecutive NFC championship game.
Kaepernick, overcoming a pick-six on the first drive of the game, rushed for more yards than any quarterback in NFL history and piled up 446 yards of total offense. Before taking a knee to end the game, he rushed for 183 yards on 14 rushes, a staggering 13.1-yard average, and threw for 263 yards.
The Packers tied the game at 24 midway through the third quarter before Kaepernick turned the game with a 56-yard touchdown run. Linebackers Erik Walden and Brad Jones were befuddled by Kaepernick's fake to LaMichael James, and he was off to the races.
Green Bay's ensuing possession ended with Tim Masthay pinning the Niners at the 7-yard line. It didn't matter. Kaepernick converted a third-and-2 with a 16-yard completion to Michael Crabtree, who dominated his matchup against Tramon Williams. A few plays later, Kaepernick floated a perfect deep ball to tight end Vernon Davis, who had a step on A.J. Hawk and gained 44. Frank Gore ran for 13 on the final play of the third quarter and for a 2-yard touchdown on the first play of the fourth.
That made it 38-24, with the 49ers having amassed 481 yards.
The Packers' last gasp died when Aaron Rodgers just missed Greg Jennings for what should have been a 51-yard touchdown. Inexplicably, given the defense's inability to stop the 49ers, the Packers punted.
The 49ers again started at the 7 and knocked them out with another long touchdown drive. Kaepernick, with a 16-yard run off another brilliant fake that had Clay Matthews chasing the wrong player, got it started, and B.J. Raji jumped offside on fourth-and-1 to keep the drive alive. It ended with Anthony Dixon's 2-yard touchdown run, giving San Francisco a stunning 581 total yards, 325 rushing yards and a 45-24 lead.
The Packers added a late touchdown when Rodgers hit Jennings for the score. With 57 seconds remaining, it quite possibly was the last time Jennings — a free agent-to-be — will touch the ball in a green-and-gold jersey.
It was a great day for the Harbaugh family. Niners coach Jim Harbaugh made the difficult decision to bench Alex Smith following a concussion in favor of Kaepernick. Harbaught's brother, John, coached the Ravens to a double-overtime win over top-seeded Denver.
The 49ers, with a stunning 313 yards, led 24-21 in a wild first half.
Turnovers were huge. Sam Shields got the Packers going with a pick-six on the fourth play from scrimmage. Kaepernick looked to his right and was cut off by Walden, then scrambled a bit to the left and threw on the move to Davis. Shields was in perfect position, dodged Kaepernick at about the 30 and scored on a 52-yard return.
The Packers led 14-7 on DuJuan Harris' 18-yard touchdown before Jeremy Ross muffed a punt, which the Niners recovered at the 9. On third-and-goal from the 12, Kaepernick hit Crabtree, who was wide open for the touchdown as the Packers blew coverage on a crossing route.
On the ensuing possession, Rodgers threw a bomb to Jordy Nelson on third-and-7 by Tarell Brown made a running catch on the overthrown pass and returned it across midfield. Kaepernick picked up a third-and-9 with a 15-yard run, even though Walden appeared to be spying the quarterback. Moments later, Kaepernick threw a perfect ball to Crabtree for a 20-yard touchdown, despite tight coverage by Shields.
At that point, the Packers had run 16 plays and Rodgers was 2-of-7. Rodgers got hot, though, with two laser passes. The first was a 19-yarder to Jermichael Finley to the Niners' 49 and the second was a 20-yard touchdown to James Jones.
The Niners got the halftime lead on a 36-yard field goal on the last play of the half. Kaepernick, who ran for 98 yards in the first half, made two big plays with his run. The first was a 20-yarder when Casey Hayward missed a sack. The second was an 18-yard scramble on third-and-10 when defensive coordinator Dom Capers' six-man rush didn't get home.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.