SAN FRANCISCO On a crisp, clear Saturday night in Candlestick Park, in the first postseason game of his NFL career, young Colin Kaepernick put the finishing touches on any 49ers quarterback controversy. This was the end of the debate and perhaps the beginning of an era, maybe even time to start asking a few questions.
What's in the water along that Chico-to-Turlock corridor anyway?
Aaron Rodgers returns to his neighborhood, throws his usual array of textbook lasers and touch passes, and finds himself outplayed by the 49ers and Alex Smith's successor. Kaepernick wasn't merely good, he was sensational. He was record-breaking. He was the bionic man.
The Green Bay Packers couldn't contain him, couldn't catch up with him, and certainly couldn't ruffle his, um, feathers.
"To come out and have that (early) interception, you want to see what his body language is," center Jonathan Goodwin said after the 49ers convincing 45-31 victory, "and I thought it was good. He came out confident, in control of the huddle, and led us right down the field for a touchdown."
Except for that early interception and a taunting penalty he was assessed later in the game, this was all part of the Kaepernick maturation plan. Sort of. Even the 49ers were amazed by the totals: 16 carries for 181 yards, including touchdown scampers of 20 and 56 yards; 17 completions in 31 attempts, highlighted by 12 and 20-yard scoring tosses to wideout Michael Crabtree; and too many examples of poise, of shrewd decision-making, of his swift growth to cite.
He beat the Packers with his arm, with his feet, with his brains. But he devastated them with his feet and with his sprinter's speed. As he faked handoffs and bolted through the defense, darted past linemen and linebackers and defensive backs, 49ers publicists in the press box shouted information about one broken record after another.
Postseason record for rushing yards by an NFL quarterback. Franchise marks for rushing in a postseason game. On and on it went, Kaepernick overcoming mistakes and answering Rodgers, who was hurried and harassed throughout the evening. Deep throws, crossing patterns, sideline routes. Kaepernick threw with touch and big amplitude as the snowboarders like to say, and his famous darts that found their target.
"Every play is different," 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman said. "He has to evaluate as the play goes, but he's got some history with that, so it's not like he's learning to ride a bike for the first time. (laugh) I love when he's galloping down the field, behind the defense."
There was a lot of smiling and plenty of wisecracks late Saturday night in the 49ers locker room. Their late-season issues they lost two of their final five games - no longer seem so troubling. The maligned David Akers kicked well in pregame warmups and booted his only field-goal attempt, a 36-yarder that gave the 49ers a 24-21 lead that was never relinquished. Defensive anchor Justin Smith, wearing a big, ugly brace, made his bruising presence felt. And Kaepernick, who two seasons ago was breaking records for Nevada, was more than up to the task, was everything coach Jim Harbaugh has long anticipated a risk-taker who produces the goods, not unlike his coach.
Who chases down the opposing coach after a bruising defeat and slaps him with an exuberant high-five/back slap? Undergoes a cardiac procedure to restore an erratic heart rhythm and shows up at work the following day? Pursues Peyton Manning during the offseason and then chastises folks for noticing?
And bench an efficient, highly-rated veteran quarterback that Smith guy who guided the 49ers to the NFC Championship Game last year and a 6-2-1 record this season before suffering a concussion and turns to an unproven youngster with a ton of talent.
Harbaugh's IQ appears to have multiplied these past few weeks. He is starting to sound like a genius instead of just a wild and crazy and unconventional guy. He opted to keep Kaepernick in the lineup even after Smith recovered, was so intrigued he scrapped the old play-it-safe offense and adopted read-option schemes that place an inordinate amount of responsibility on the 6-foot-4 former Wolfpack standout.