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January 12, 2013
Kaepernick leaves Packers, rushing records in his dust

KapPack.jpg

SAN FRANCISCO - Colin Kaepernick left the Packers defense in his dust Saturday, and Michael Vick Roger Craig and several old rushing records were back there, too.

The 49ers quarterback opened the game with a worst-case scenario -- an interception that left him sprawled on his stomach swiping at cornerback Sam Shields, who dashed down the sideline for a 52-yard touchdown and a quick 7-0 lead for Green Bay.

Catastrophe? Not for this quarterback, who's shown a knack for bouncing back from bad plays this season.

He did so so quickly in the 49ers' 45-31 win. Kaepernick scored two touchdowns with his legs - one of them for 20 yards on the possession immediately after his interception -- and two more with his right arm, and he set the NFL's postseason rushing record for a quarterback along the way.

His 181 yards were 62 more than Vick's total in 2005. And they were 46 more than former 49ers running back Craig, who had previously held the 49ers postseason rushing mark from a game in 1989.

The 49ers, who hogged the ball and hammered the Packers defensive line throughout, steamrolled their way 352 yards on the ground, setting team records for both rushing and total yards (579) for the postseason. They ran 75 offensive plays to Green Bay's 56 and held the ball for 38 minutes.

For the second straight season, the 49ers are a win from going to their sixth Super Bowl and will await the winner of today's Seahawks-Falcons game. If it's the Falcons, the 49ers will travel to Atlanta next week. If the Seahawks win, they will visit Candlestick Park, the third - and decisive - meeting between the arch rivals from the NFC West.

After the early interception, Jim Harbaugh said he simply told Kaepernick there was a lot of football left to play - nearly 58 minutes to be exact. "He does a great job of responding," Harbaugh said. "He's done that every time there's been an interception ... he's responded with scoring drives. I think that's rare. I think that's a rare quality, and so far he's shown the ability to come back."

Kaepernick's big day also provided some vindication for Harbaugh, whose high-stakes gamble to play the talented but green second-year quarterback over veteran Alex Smith earlier this year has been by far the team's biggest storyline.

Earlier this season, Kaepernick had a critical miscue in St. Louis - a bad pitch the previously moribund Rams recovered for a touchdown. Kaepernick responded with a 50-yard run in that game, and afterward Harbaugh said he was encouraged by the way the quarterback handled the adversity.

Kaepernick bounced back the same way against Green Bay, but this time kept on running.

As the season drew to a close, the 49ers quietly reduced Kaepernick's carries and virtually eliminated the read-option plays that were a staple of the game plan when he entered games early in the year.

Against the Packers, Kaepernick frequently lined up in the Pistol, the formation he mastered at the University of Nevada where he rushed for more than 4,000 yards
In the third quarter, as the Packers were beginning to shows signs of wear, Kaepernick must have felt as if he were back at Reno. He faked an inside handoff, then darted around to the outside where he found only green grass in front of him.

"The (defensive) end came down, our receivers blocked the corner and the safety -- there was nobody else left," said Kaepernick. His 56-yard score broke a 24-24 tie, and the 49ers never trailed again in the contest.

What's perhaps most promising as far as the 49ers' Super Bowl hopes is that Kaepernick had plenty of help in the team's ground attack.

Frank Gore, who did not have a 100-yard rushing performance after Week 9 last year, seemed as fresh as ever Saturday, carrying the ball 23 times for 119 yards.
Rookie LaMichael James added three carries for 21 yards while Anthony Dixon scored on a two-yard touchdown.

"I think he's done a great job at keeping his body fresh," tackle Joe Staley said of Gore. "I mean, we're late in the season now and he's still running like it's Week 1."

-- Matt Barrows



MATTHEW BARROWS

Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.

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