GREEN BAY, WIS - Tie game. Five minutes to play. The playoffs on the line. Three degrees and dropping.
Colin Kaepernick didn't freeze and he didn't flinch.
Instead the quarterback, one of ten 49ers who played the frigid game without sleeves, converted one third-and-long situation with his arm and another with his legs on a final drive that ended with Phil Dawson's 33-yard game winner as time expired.
The 23-20 win sends the 49ers onto Charlotte, N.C. to face the Panthers, who beat the 49ers 10-9 in San Francisco in Week 10, and adds to Kaepernick's reputation as the biggest Packers slayer of them all.
A year ago, he set an NFL rushing record for a quarterback with 181 yards against the Packers. On Sunday he finished with 98 yards on the ground - the fifth-most gained by a quarterback in the postseason - to go along with 227 passing yards. His rushing total included an 11-yard, around-the-edge scamper at game's end that gave the 49ers a first down and put them in Dawson's range.
"I mean he was just clutch," said Jim Harbaugh, a word he repeated throughout his post-game press conference. "Colin Kaepernick - I think we can all agree is a clutch performer. This is not his first time doing this."
One day earlier, Harbaugh had watched Kaepernick get ready for a walk-through practice in 31-degree temperatures and suggested that he at least wear sleeves. He made the same recommendation today but Kaepernick, whose family moved from Wisconsin to Turlock when he was four years old, said he'd rather bare his arms.
Why do that today when he wore sleeves and even a glove on his throwing hand in cold games at the University of Nevada? "At Nevada we didn't have jackets on the sideline, beanies or heaters," Kaepernick said. "So it's a little bit different."
A sleeveless quarterback also sent the message that the team from California, which never had won a playoff game in Green Bay, wasn't going to be intimidated by the cold. Indeed both the offense and defense got off to hot starts. Kaepernick led two long drives in the first quarter, but both bogged down near the goal line, and the 49ers had to settle for short field goals.
The defense, meanwhile, forced three straight three-and-out series from Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, who totaled six yards in the first quarter.
And then Kaepernick made one of two bad throws. Cornerback Tramon Williams' interception of a deep throw to Vernon Davis early in the second quarter seemed to wake the slumbering Packers, and Rodgers responded with a 14-play touchdown drive that erased San Francisco's quick start.
But Kaepernick more than matched the one-time league MVP from that point fourth. After the Packers took a 17-13 lead early in the fourth quarter, he made perhaps his best throw of the game. Kaepernick had been been looking for opportunities when Davis was isolated against Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk. He finally got it at the Green Bay 28-yard line, and his pass down the middle of the field cut through the wind and arrived just before the advancing safety to give the 49ers the lead back, 20-17.
The Packers answered with a field goal to tie the game, setting up the final drive.
Kaepernick's third pass of the possession was nearly a disaster, a short attempt to Anquan Boldin that cornerback Micah Hyde could have intercepted and run back the other way for a touchdown. But on the next play, 3rd and 10, Kaepernick kept his composure and hit Michael Crabtree over the middle for 17 yards.
While Boldin was his main target in last week's last-second win against Arizona, Kaepernick was eying Crabtree throughout this one, and the receiver finished with eight catches for 125 yards to lead all receivers. "If my life depended on it and somebody had to catch a ball, I'd enlist Michael Crabtree to do it," Harbaugh said after the game.
The 49ers converted two more third downs on the drive and ran another nine plays before Dawson, who won last week's game with a 40-yard kick as time expired, calmly hit another, silencing 78,000 fans as the ball slipped past the uprights.
The 49ers now have to travel cross country and play at 10 a.m. (PST). But after dealing with a deep freeze in Green Bay, a trip to Carolina doesn't seem so undesirable.
Said Kaepernick: "We owe 'em."
-- Matt Barrows