By Jerrell Richardson
The decision by Jim Harbaugh to switch from Alex Smith to Colin Kaepernick was justified on Saturday. San Francisco will be in their second consecutive NFC Championship Game, and although everyone contributed, the star of the game was clearly Colin Kaepernick. In his first playoff game he rode an emotional roller coaster as he could not have had a worse start to the game, but showed the poise of a veteran, and shook off an early interception to have a record setting performance. The game was close for most of the first half, but was never in doubt in the second half, with the 49ers cruising to a 45-31 rout. The 49ers executed their game plan to perfection and the visiting Packers were no match, while being out played and out coached in all phases of the game.
The story of the game was the Colin Kaepernick, who filled up the stat sheet. He completed over half of his 31 attempts, had over 250 yards passing, and threw 2 touchdowns. However, it was the legs of Kaepernick that showed why he gives this team the best chance at winning a Super Bowl. The Packers used the same plan of bringing pressure off the corners, that Arizona employed in the final week of the season to limit the 49ers, but this time around San Francisco was ready. Kaepernick was able to break containment when he saw a blitzed and made them pay. He had the most rushing yards for a quarterback EVER, totaling 183 yards and added 2 rushing touchdowns, making it impossible for the defense to figure out who to cover. With so much attention paid to the scrambling of Kaepernick, it open the door for the rest of the offense.
Michael Crabtree continued to be the team’s go to guy in the passing game, finishing the game with 9 receptions and 119 yards, and even Vernon Davis got involved with a 44 yard reception to set up a 49er score. 7 different receivers caught a pass and Green Bay had no idea where the ball was going. With the aerial attack clicking, Frank Gore had plenty of room to run and finished with 119 yards on 23 carries. As a whole, San Francisco dominated offensively, controlling the ball for close to 40 minutes, racked up 581 yards and after a terrible first quarter pass, protected the ball without a single turnover. Grade: A+
For the second time this season, the 49er defense shut down Aaron Rodgers. His overall numbers were not bad, but most his his damage came with his team out of striking distance. With the Packers getting 7 points off an interception, the offense was only responsible for 24 points, and 7 of those came with 57 second left in the game. As was expected, Green Bay was unable to run, and as a one dimensional team couldn’t do enough in the passing attack to keep up on the scoreboard. After a season that had some question if he lost a step, Patrick Willis lead the way defensively with 7 tackles and had the teams only sack. The Packers were only 5 for 12 on 3rd down and by getting off the field, the defense set the table for the offensive ball control. Grade: A
The offense and defense dominated, while the Special Teams quietly did their job. The biggest concern coming into the game was David Akers. It could not have worked out perfectly for his confidence as the game did not come down to a last minute kick, and he was still able to make an important kick. His 35-yard field goal at the end of the first half allowed the team to go into intermission with the lead, and they never looked back. Akers will be needed at some point this post season, and it’s a good sign that he escaped this game without missing a kick. Andy Lee was not really called upon, and neither were the return units, but all still were solid in their limited action. Grade: A
Jim Harbaugh had one week to prepare for the Packers, and two weeks to get his team ready to play their best game of the season, and he succedded in both. He lead a team to a dominating performance over a very talented team, and he can no longer be questioned. He has been faced with several tough decisions this season, and has pushed the right buttons at the right time to get his team to the NFC Championship Game for the second time in two seasons. The best call he made in this game was to play Akers, who after a succseful night should have regained his confidence, and will be ready for the inevitable pressure kick that is facing him down the road. Harabugh was won games in the regular season, shown the ability to win playoff games and knows his players. What more can you ask out of a coach? Grade: A
Entering the game, the 49ers knew that they would need to control the clock, win the turnover battle, and use a balanced offensive attack to outlast the Packers. Green Bay is an experienced team with a talented roster, but never really threatened the favored 49ers, as they were able to execute their game plan to the letter. The biggest thing the team can take from this game though is the play of their quarterback. Just as impressive as his record breaking day, was how he bounced back from an interception on his second pass of the game. All eyes were on Kaepernick before the game started, but after such a big mistake, it was the perfect chance for him to fold under the pressure and look like a player caught up in the moment. Instead he bounced back, and if there was still any doubt as to who the starting quarterback for the 49ers should be, it was answered on Saturday. The 49ers are back to where there were last year, and Colin Kaepernick in his first year, will take the team as far as Smith could take them in 7 years. Can he take them (at least) one step further?
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Jerrell Richardson is a Bay Area native who due to a college career at San Diego State University has grown an appreciation for all things sports related in California. His heart will always remain in San Francisco though where he currently resides and covers everything from the San Francisco 49ers and Giants to the San Jose Sharks and California Bears Baseball team. His work can be found on Examiner.com.