When he was a fourth grader he dreamt of playing professional football for the Niners or the Packers, so it was fitting that Colin Kaepernick’s post-season debut as San Francisco’s starting quarterback was against Green Bay.
Before Saturday’s NFC Divisional game nobody, including Kaepernick, knew what to make of the matchup. Was it irony, coincidence, or maybe even fate? Whatever the circumstance one thing was clear—all eyes were on the Turlock native.
San Francisco had already defeated Green Bay in a Week 1 road game, but that victory had been orchestrated by the usurped Alex Smith. Now people wanted to know if Kaepernick could get the job done. On Saturday he had his opportunity to silence any lingering critics; to solidify his position as the unquestioned quarterback for the 49ers and to continue a storybook season that seized the nation’s attention seemingly overnight.
He did all those things and more.
"It feels good. We're one step closer to where we want to be," Kaepernick said. "I feel like I had a lot to prove. A lot of people doubted my ability to lead this team."
Kaepernick’s 263 passing yards, 181 rushing yards —a new All-Time NFL record for a quarterback—and four combined touchdowns in the 45-31 victory over Green Bay left no doubt that head coach Jim Harbaugh had made the right decision to stick with the hot handed Kaepernick. By Sunday morning it seemed to be fate, not coincidence, which was at play on Saturday.
“It’s a great accolade. I think it means a lot to this team,” Kaepernick said.
Prior to Saturday’s game Kaepernick said he found it disrespectful to be considered just another running quarterback. He insisted that he was a quarterback who could also run and that there was a significant difference between the two. It was a bit ironic then to watch his rushing performance earn him arguably the most respect of his short career; spurring former and current players to heap praise on the second-year quarterback and landing him on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
“Just to see how fast he’s picked up on the offense and just to see how much he’s picked up on the game period, it’s remarkable,” San Francisco linebacker Patrick Willis said after the game.
“To see a quarterback run the way he runs, that’s unbelievable,” Willis added. “To see him do that in the game it amazes me, it wows me. I’m like, ‘Wow, did he just do that?’”
While Willis was left wowed watching from the sideline, Green Bay’s defense was left off balance and humbled on the field by Kaepernick’s multi-dimensional style of play. From under center or in pistol or shotgun formation, the Pack simply couldn’t stop Kap.
"I didn't know how fast he was," Green Bay defensive back Charles Woodson said. "Coming in I really never paid attention to it. But he is fast."
Whether through the air, where he connected with Michael Crabtree for two touchdowns from 12 and 20 yards out, or on the ground, where he ran for scores of 20 and 56 yards, Kaepernick displayed the versatility that made him a star at the University of Nevada and is starting to give defenses in the NFL a hard time.
“He’s making it happen. With his feet, with his arm, he’s just out there making plays,” Crabtree said of his quarterback. “He’s a playmaker.”
By the end of the night Kaepernick’s combined 444 yards of offense accounted for 77 percent of San Francisco’s total yards in the team’s third highest scoring performance in franchise playoff history.
But things didn’t start out as sweet as they ended. On his second pass of the game’s first drive, Kaepernick was intercepted by Green Bay’s Sam Shields who carried it back 52 yards for the game’s first score. In that moment fans and critics alike wondered if the young quarterback’s inexperience would be a problem, but Kaepernick was unfazed.
“I had to bounce back,” Kaepernick said. “There was still a lot of game to be played.”
"He does a great job of responding," Harbaugh said. "He has done that any time there has been an interception he has thrown, a safety or a turnover, he's responded with a scoring drive. That's rare. I think that's a rare quality. So far he's shown that he's got that ability to come back."
Now, having proven his ability to lead his team, overcome adversity, and perform under scrutiny and pressure, Kaepernick and the 49ers find themselves in the NFC Championship game for the second consecutive year. Standing before them are the Atlanta Falcons who narrowly edged out San Francisco’s NFC North rival Seattle Seahawks on Sunday. If the 49ers can beat the Falcons and secure a trip to Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans, it will be the final storyline of many in a dream like season for Kaepernick.
“It’s been amazing; I couldn’t ask for anything more,” Kaepernick said. “Anytime your teammates have confidence in you and they feel good about what you’re doing it makes you feel like you’re doing the right things.”