It wasn't an easy win, especially in temperatures that dropped below freezing with the wind chill factored in.
But San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, a Pitman High graduate, led his team to a 23-20 victory over the Green Bay Packers in the opening round of the NFL playoffs on Sunday.
“I think one of the biggest things, we’ve got a good bad-weather quarterback,” 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh said. “I think we’ve established that.”
More than 47 million people watched the game on Sunday, making the contest the most-watched wild-card game in history.
The 49ers got off to a strong start, taking a 6-0 lead in the first quarter. That early lead came in large part to a stymieing San Francisco defense, which held Green Bay without a first down and forced three consecutive three-and-outs to start the game.
Just as it appeared the game might be a blow-out, though, Kaepernick lofted a pass intended for tight end Vernon Davis. Green Bay cornerback Tramon Williams jumped the route and intercepted the ball, putting the Packers right back in the hunt.
But Kaepernick, playing without long-sleeves despite the freezing cold, manned up and tackled Williams to save a potential touchdown run-back. The play earned Harbaugh's highest praise.
“Colin Kaepernick is a football player,” Harbaugh said.
Packers quarterback Aaron Rogers led Green Bay to a touchdown off the turnover, putting the 49ers behind 7-6 despite the dominating first quarter.
Kaepernick rallied the troops for a 68 yard touchdown on the ensuing drive though, putting San Francisco back on top.
The Packers regained the lead at the start of the fourth quarter on a one-yard TD run from fullback John Kuhn. But again Kaepernick and the 49ers responded immediately, retaking a 20-17 lead on their next drive thanks to a 28 yard completion from Kap to Davis.
With time winding down in the game, it looked as though Green Bay might regain the lead. The 49ers defense held the Packers to a field goal, though, tying the score and giving San Francisco the ball with 5:06 left in the ball game.
Kaepernick then led a gem of a drive, highlighted by an 11 yard run to convert a third down and put the 49ers into field goal range. The drive moved the 49ers 65 yards to set up a Phil Dawson field goal attempt as time expired. The ball sailed between the arms of a Packers defender and through the uprights, handing San Francisco a 23-20 win.
Kaepernick finished the game 16 of 30 passing, good for 227 yards, one touchdown, and one interception.
“I thought Colin [Kaepernick] arguably made more terrific throws,” Harbaugh said. “The touch to the backs coming out of the backfield I thought was really good. And those aren’t easy climates to throw the ball, to catch the ball in, to execute in.”
Kap also flashed his speed on the ground, rushing for 98 yards – the most on the team.
“The thing I didn’t envision, really even going into the game, and I didn’t envision when we drafted Colin [Kaepernick], was just how unbelievably effective he would be on a bad field,” Harbaugh said. “He was running like a gazelle. At times just looked like he was running and having fun like he was the only one on the field. That’s what a difference it was between him and the other defenders that were out there.”
In just four playoff games, Kaepernick already has the fifth most rushing yards of any quarterback in the playoffs, with 362 yards. The all-time leading rushing quarterback in the postseason is former 49er great Steve Young, who had 594 yards in 20 games.
The 49ers will now travel to Charlotte, N.C. to take on the NFC South Champion Carolina Panthers at 10:05 a.m. Sunday. The game will be televised on FOX.
The game is a rematch of a Nov. 10 contest, when the Panthers edged the 49ers 10-9 at San Francisco.
“We owe them for the first time they came to our house," Kaepernick told Fox Sports on Sunday.
Despite playing on the road this Sunday, the 49ers are early 2 point favorites. In part, that's because Kaepernick will have his two favorite weapons back for this weekend's game: Davis and wide reciever Micheal Crabtree, both of whom missed the earlier match-up with Carolina.
But despite bringing a stronger line-up and the league's longest winning streak into Sunday's contest, Harbaugh said his team still has to prove they deserve to beat Carolina.
“You’re only as good as your last four quarters of football. And your next four quarters will be based on preparation and your approach and then proving it,” Harbaugh said. “You got to go prove it.”