SAN FRANCISCO—The quarterback was different but the result was the same. The San Francisco 49ers dominated time of possession and buried the Packers under an avalanche of rushing yards, scoring a 45-31 win at Candlestick Park on Saturday night that ended the Packers' season in the divisional round of the NFC playoffs.
Colin Kaepernick rushed for 181 yards, an NFL playoff record for quarterbacks, and threw for 263 yards and two touchdowns in a performance that officially crowned him one of the NFL's stars of the future. On a day when Super Bowl-champion quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning were eliminated from the playoffs, Kaepernick won in his first postseason start.
"The execution by the 49ers on the read-option was excellent. We didn't keep him in the pocket. We tried to make adjustments to our pass-rush lanes but didn't get that accomplished," Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy said.
What was most impressive about Kaepernick's performance is that he started the game by throwing an interception that was returned 52 yards for a touchdown by Packers cornerback Sam Shields.
"We couldn't start the game any better. We came back with two turnovers in the second quarter that resulted in 14 points," McCarthy said.
McCarthy was referring to an interception Rodgers threw on a deep ball intended for Jordy Nelson that was intercepted by Tarell Brown, and to a fumble by Jeremy Ross while fielding a punt. The 49ers recovered the fumble at the Packers 9-yard line. Both turnovers resulted in touchdowns by the 49ers, as Kaepernick began to get hot, passing as well as running.
"That's what happens when you're not on the same page," Rodgers said of the interception.
"For him to drop that ball, there's no excuse for it," McCarthy said of Ross' fumble, which followed an impressive stop by the Packers defense.
Despite the turnovers, the Packers trailed by only three points, 24-21, at halftime, and they tied the game at 24-24 on a Mason Crosby 31-yard field goal on the Packers' second possession of the second half.
That's when the roof fell in on the Packers' season, as Kaepernick took his game to a higher level and buried the Packers with 21 unanswered points.
Alex Smith was the 49ers' starting quarterback in a 30-22, season-opening win at Lambeau Field. The 49ers dominated that game with 186 yards rushing. Kaepernick replaced Smith in the starting lineup shortly after midseason, and he gives the 49ers a dimension of suddenness they lacked with Smith at quarterback.
"He was running all over the field. We didn't have a whole lot of answers for him," Rodgers said of Kaepernick, whose speed was on display on touchdown runs of 20 and 56 yards. On the second touchdown run, he outran the Packers secondary.
"I don't think he surprised us with his speed. He had one interception and after that he played extremely well," McCarthy said of Kaepernick, who completed 17 of 31 passes for 263 yards, two touchdowns and a 91.2 passer rating.
"I thought Aaron played well. We tried to get Randall Cobb involved. Aaron didn't have enough opportunities tonight," McCarthy said.
Rodgers completed 26 of 39 throws for 257 yards, two touchdowns, one interception and a 91.5 passer rating.
Compounding the problem for the Packers was Frank Gore's 119 yards rushing, which left the 49ers with 323 yards rushing and 38 minutes time of possession. The 49ers gained 579 yards of total offense, and this by a team known more for its defense.
McCarthy was asked if the Packers should've used a "spy" on Kaepernick.
"You might not know this but we did. We had a couple of different schemes and didn't get that done," McCarthy said.
What the Packers might come to realize is that they ran into a player who's about to become one of the NFL's premier players. Kaepernick looked the part in Saturday night's win and he'll have a chance to lead the 49ers into the Super Bowl, when the 49ers play the winner of Sunday's Seattle at Atlanta game in next weekend's NFC Championship.