These are the plays that define a quarterback. A season. Kaepernick came through beautifully, stepping up in the pocket to avoid a blitz and delivering a dart to Michael Crabtree for 17 yards. Nine plays -- and one key Kaepernick run later -- the 49ers were headed back to the Divisional Round for the third consecutive season. The 49ers head to Carolina to face the Panthers on Sunday.
San Francisco out-lasted the Packers 23-20 in the best game in a terrific weekend of football. Indianapolis' comeback was exciting, but Sunday's game in Lambeau was played as the Football Gods intended. In the elements. Two escape artists at quarterback trading jaw-dropping throws. It was old school power running by Frank Gore and Eddie Lacy mixed new school athleticism at quarterback, all in one.
The Packers fell short, but should be commended for playing their guts out. They lost two defensive starters (cornerback Sam Shields and linebacker Mike Neal) early in the game, and the injuries continued all 60 minutes. The game nearly went to overtime after Packers cornerback Davon House dove to block Phil Dawson's game-winning 33-yard field goal, but the ball went right through House's forearms. (House was called for being offside on the play.)
That was a fitting end to a fascinating Packers season that seemed snakebit, even before Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone in November. Rodgers played well in the brutal conditions Sunday, but it was difficult to throw the ball deep for both quarterbacks. The offensive line gave up four sacks and Rodgers' best plays were scrambling away from quick pressure.
Rodgers makes up for a lot of problems in Green Bay, but this wasn't a title-ready roster. The defense played tough Sunday, but it's not a surprise they gave up two long scoring drives in the fourth quarter. Green Bay's struggling safeties lost Vernon Davis on a 28-yard touchdown early in the quarter. And they couldn't contain Kaepernick on the ground, just like last year. (He finished with 98 rushing yards.)
The Packers are annual contenders, but they haven't been able to get over the hump in the three season since their title. Their defense has grown worse over that time, not better. And they will have to decide whether defensive coordinator Dom Capers is the man to lead that improvement. The NFC is loaded with quarterback talent, with three young hot shots and Drew Brees playing next week.