- Bill Williamson, ESPN Staff Writer
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“Everyone yelled and got quiet,” Boone said. “I knew Colin was at it again.”
It was third-and-8 from the Green Bay 38-yard line with 1:13 with the NFC wild-card game tied at 20. Had the 49ers failed to convert, it is unlikely a long field goal in frigid weather would have been attempted. Getting the first down was paramount.
So, the 49ers relied on their young quarterback who, despite his lack of experience, is proving to be an elite postseason performer.
When his first receiving option wasn't there, Kaepernick darted toward the 49ers’ sideline for 11 yards and the first down. Five plays later, kicker Phil Dawson hit a 33-yard field goal as time expired to give the 49ers a 23-20 victory and send them to Carolina to face the Panthers Sunday in the NFC divisional round.
“It was a signature play,” 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman said. “But we’ve come to expect that.”
Especially against Green Bay. Kaepernick has started just 27 NFL games. But he has become a certified Packers killer. It has to be getting on the nerves of Green Bay fans. After all, Kaepernick was born in Milwaukee and lived in Fond du Lac for the first four years of his life.
Since last January, Kaepernick has led the 49ers to three wins over the Packers including two in the playoffs. He was spectacular in all three, accounting for combined 1,201 total yards.
Last year, in divisional round against the Packers, Kaepernick ran for a quarterback-record 181 yards. In Week 1 of this season, Kaepernick threw for a career-high 412 yards.
This time, Kaepernick beat the Packers both in the air and on the ground. He finished with 227 yards passing and 98 rushing. Whenever Kaepernick had to make a play Sunday, he did.
“He was phenomenal,” Boone said. “One big play clutch plays after another.”
None were bigger than his last carry, though.
Had Kaepernick failed to get a first down, the game would have likely gone to overtime. Instead, as Kaepernick sprinted past his teammates on the sidelines and the first-down marker, it was obvious to all -- he was leading the 49ers to another win over the Packers.
Kaepernick said his first option on the play was receiver Michael Crabtree, who had his biggest game of the season since returning from a torn Achilles, but the one-on-one play didn’t develop.
“It didn’t look good to me,” Kaepernick said. “So I tried to make something happen.”
Added Roman: “We saw some things on film and knew there would be some certain opportunities. Colin saw it and went. And I’m glad he did. That was the huge play of the ball game.”
Kaepernick had success running all game. According to ESPN Stats & Information, had 85 scramble yards on four of his rushes Sunday. It was the second highest scramble total of the NFL season. Seattle’s Russell Wilson had 91 scramble yards against the Colts in Week 5. Kaepernick’s ground success was typical of his playoff success. In four playoff games, Kaepernick is averaging 11.0 yards before contact per rush.
“He was around the edge so fast,” 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said of his quarterback. “If it was one yard, it was 20 yards.”
Kaepernick has been playing at a high level for the past seven games, in which the 49ers are undefeated. A big reason for Kaepernick's improved play has been the return of Crabtree, which may be a sign of things to come as the 49ers try to extend their postseason run. Crabtree had eight catches for 125 yards.
Crabtree allows Kaepernick more freedom. That was evident on the game-clinching run. On that play, Crabtree was covered, but it helped open Kaepernick’s lane. Harbaugh marveled at his quarterback’s ability to strike at the biggest moment.
“[He’s] somebody that answers in the clutch time of the game, on the important down,” Harbaugh said. “He’s Kaepernick tough and I think it’s pretty awesome.”