Get the Athlon Sports Newsletter
The dual-threat QB's record-breaking effort lifted San Francisco to its second straight title game.
When placed directly in the spotlight of the NFL Playoffs, many players shrink amid the added scrutiny, while others shine brightest when given national attention.
Heading into San Francisco’s Divisional Round playoff showdown with Green Bay, no one was quite sure which type of player 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick would be.
The second-year dual-threat signal-caller out of Nevada was making just his eighth career start since replacing veteran Alex Smith — who led the Niners all the way to the NFC title game last year before being concussed in Week 10 this season and never reclaiming his starting job.
Clearly Kaepernick looked the part during the regular season — posting a 5–2 record while completing 62.4 percent of his passes for 1,814 yards, 10 TDs and three INTs for a 98.3 passer rating, while scrambling for 415 yards, on 6.6 yards per carry, and five TDs on the ground.
The playoffs, however, are a completely different animal. And Kaepernick was the youngest quarterback (25 years, 2 months, 9 nines) to start for San Francisco since Joe Montana (25 years, 6 months, 23 days).
Kaepernick looked his age early on, throwing an interception that was returned for a 52-yard TD by Packers cornerback Sam Shields, giving Green Bay an early 7–0 lead. But, as a young Joe Cool might have done, Kaepernick stayed calm and answered with an eight-play, 80-yard TD drive to tie the game at 7–7.
“He does a great job of responding. He has done that. Every time there’s been an interception that he’s thrown, or safety or turnover. He’s responded with a scoring drive. I think that’s rare. I think that’s a rare quality. And so far he’s shown that he’s got that ability to come back,” said 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, who was known as “Captain Comeback” during his playing days.
From that point on, Kaepernick was in total control of the 49ers offense and the Packers defense was helpless to stop San Fran’s new golden boy. Kaepernick completed 17-of-31 passes for 263 yards and two TDs, while running 16 times for 181 yards and two TDs en route to a 45–31 win. His 181 rushing yards broke both the NFL single-game and playoff game records for a quarterback, both of which were held by Michael Vick, as well as the 49ers’ team playoff record, held by Roger Craig.
And with running back Frank Gore adding 23 carries for 119 yards and one TD, the Niners’ play-action opened up the downfield passing game for wideout Michael Crabtree, who finished with nine catches for 119 yards and two TDs. The 49ers’ trio became the first in NFL history to post two 100-yard rushers and one 100-yard receiver in a playoff game. San Francisco also set team records for total yards (579) and rushing yards (323) in the process.
“Our offensive line played great today. They did a lot of things well up front. Our running backs ran well and our receivers made plays,” said Kaepernick, who joined Jay Cutler and Otto Graham as the only players in history to record two passing TDs and two rush TDs in a playoff game.
Kaepernick’s humility did little to shift the credit, however. There was no denying the impact of No. 7.
“He is a playmaker,” said 49ers tight end Vernon Davis. “He can run. He is athletic. He can throw. All the things you want in a quarterback, he has it.”
As for whether or not Kaepernick is a “running” quarterback, the former two-sport star who was drafted by MLB’s Chicago Cubs doesn’t bother worrying about labels.
“I don’t want to be categorized,” Kaepernick said after the game.
All Kaepernick seems to care about is being a big-time player — the type who rises to the occasion to make big plays in big games.