Harbaugh: 'I thought they competed like maniacs'
SAN FRANCISCO -- Colin Kaepernick's record-setting day got off to a bad start.
Kaepernick, making just his eighth NFL start, had his second pass of the game intercepted and returned for a touchdown. But the kid recovered quite well.
Kaepernick rushed for 183 yards, the most for a quarterback in NFL postseason history and the most rushing yards for any player in 49ers postseason history.
And he also made plenty of plays with his arm, too, with 263 yards and two touchdowns.
And the 49ers are moving on to the NFC Championship for the second consecutive season with a 45-31 victory over the Green Bay Packers on Saturday night at Candlestick Park.
The 49ers, who earned the NFC's No. 2 seed with an 11-4-1 regular season record, will move on to the NFC Championship game on Sunday, Jan. 20, at noon (PT) against the winner of the Seattle-Atlanta game. If the Seahawks win, the third meeting between the NFC West rivals will take place at Candlestick. If the Falcons win, they will host the 49ers.
Nobody is debating the logic behind coach Jim Harbaugh's midseason decision to replace Alex Smith with Kaepernick after Smith was knocked from the lineup Nov. 11 with a concussion.
After all, Kaepernick's first postseason start was one for the ages.
Kaepernick gave the 49ers a 31-24 lead in the middle of the third quarter on a 56-yard touchdown run. It was the longest run for a quarterback in playoff history, topping Steve McNair's 51-yard run for the Tennessee Titans in 2000. Kaepernick faked an inside handoff to LaMichael James on a read option, and fullback Bruce Miller made a block on Packers outside linebacker Erik Walden, and Kaepernick outraced everyone to the end zone.
It was also the longest run by a quarterback in 49ers history -- regular or postseason. Twice this season Kaepernick had 50-yard runs. Along with solid games from Frank Gore and a contribution from LaMichael James, the 49ers set a franchise record for most yards rushing in a postseason game.
Gore rushed for 119 yards on 23 carries.
On the next drive, Kaepernick hit tight end Vernon Davis for a beautifully thrown 44-yard pass against the coverage of Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk. Gore scored on a 2-yard run for a 38-24 lead on the first play of the fourth quarter.
Even third running back Anthony Dixon got in the act with a 2-yard touchdown run with 3:34 remaining to give the 49ers a 45-24 lead.
Things could not have gotten off to a worse start for Kaepernick, whose second pass attempt of the game was intercepted by cornerback Sam Shields and returned 52 yards for a touchdown.
Kaeperick looked for Michael Crabtree on a deep out on the right side, but when Crabtree slipped, Kaepernick came back to the other side. He threw across his body toward the left sideline. Shields jumped tight end Vernon Davis' route and took it back untouched for a touchdown just two minutes, 12 seconds into the game.
Kaepernick led the 49ers down the field on the ensuring possession. He hit Frank Gore for a 45-yard pass on a third-and-10 situation against the coverage of Packers defensive back Charles Woodson.
Three plays later, Kaepernick scrambled 20 yards for a touchdown to tie the game.
The Packers regained the lead on a seven-play, 80-yard drive that took just 2:44. Aaron Rodgers hit James Jones for a 44-yard pass against Chris Culliver and Dashon Goldson. And on the next play, running back DuJuan Harris slipped past penetrating 49ers defensive lineman Justin Smith for an 18-yard touchdown.
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The 49ers tied the game at 14-14 early in the second quarter when C.J. Spillman recovered a Jeremy Ross muffed punt at the 10-yard line. Three plays later, Kaepernick hit Crabtree on a 12-yard touchdown pass.
Kaepernick and Crabtree hooked up again 5 1/2 minutes later on a 20-yard touchdown pass. Cornerback Tarell Brown set up the 49ers' go-ahead score with an interception of a Rodgers deep pass and 39-yard return to the Green Bay 48.
David Akers gave the 49ers a 24-21 lead on the final play of the first half with a 36-yard field goal. Akers got the call this week after withstanding a practice-field competition against Billy Cundiff.
The Packers tied the game at 24-24 with 8:25 remaining in the third quarter on Mason Crosby's 31-yard field goal.
The 49ers' defense appeared to get a big lift from the return of defensive tackle Justin Smith, who missed the final 2 1/2 regular season games with a partially torn left triceps tendon. Smith, playing with a brace on his left elbow, showed no ill-effects. Smith constantly moved the pocket and was his usual disruptive self in the middle of the 49ers' defense.
THIS 'N' THAT: The 49ers had a healthy 53-man roster for the first time in a long time, as none of their seven inactive players were out due to injuries. The players who were not active for Saturday's game were quarterback Scott Tolzien, kicker Billy Cundiff, safety Trenton Robinson, running back Jewel Hampton, guard Joe Looney and defensive tackles Tony Jerod-Eddie and Ian Williams. . . . Kickoff was pushed back 10 minutes to 5:25 p.m. because of the Baltimore-Denver AFC divisional-round game went into overtime. . . . John Harbaugh's Ravens defeated the top-seeded Broncos 38-35 in two overtimes.