The scene was set. Aaron Rodgers was returning to Candlestick Park in San Francisco, hoping to stick it to the 49ers for picking Alex Smith
over Rodgers himself with the 1st overall pick in the 2005 draft. Rodgers was looking for the first time to make the 49ers wish they had used that first overall pick on the former California Golden Bear, who hailed from Chico, just a three-hour drive to the North of San Francisco.
After Saturday night’s divisional playoff game, Rodgers will have to wait at least one more year after the San Francisco 49ers rolled to a 45-31 win over the Green Bay Packers. This night would belong to 2nd year quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who was born in Wisconsin and grew up cheering for the Packers and Brewers as a youngster.
Kaepernick’s night didn’t start off great, but it certainly ended that way. The 49ers had the opening possession and Kaepernick forced a pass that was intercepted by Sam Shields and returned 52 yards for a touchdown. Other than a few brief moments, it was Kaepernick who looked like the accomplished MVP. If Kaepernick was nervous, he hardly showed it.
Kaepernick didn’t take over at quarterback in San Francisco until mid-November. Yet he set a new playoff record for rushing yards by a quarterback, (119 by Michael Vick) and then surpassed Vick’s 2002 record of 173 yards, the most rushing yards by a quarterback in any game, playoff or regular season. Kaepernick finished with 181 yards rushing and two touchdowns. He also passed for 263 yards and two touchdowns.
The 49ers rolled up 579 yards on the Packers defense with Kaepernick accounting for 446 of those yards. It was a 56 yard run for a touchdown that broke a 24-24 tie in the 3rd quarter that stood out. The Packers defense got caught inside (LB Erik Walden) and Kaepernick scored with ease as he ran away from the defense.
Unlike the first half when Aaron Rodgers would answer 49er scores, the second half was different. It was as if Kaepernick had broken the Packers will. The defense couldn’t stop him and eventually wore down. Then the offense couldn’t do enough to keep up either, abandoning the running game and asking Rodgers to do it all.
Last season, the Packers fell to Giants in this contest, doing so with the league’s 32nd ranked defense. This season, the Packers lose the divisional game to San Francisco with a defense that improved to 11th in the league. But Saturday night would not be their night.
Would the outcome have been different if the 49ers would have had to make the journey to Lambeau Field in January? Perhaps! But we’ll never know because the Packers had a chance to take care of business against the Vikings in the regular season finale and lost to Minnesota at the Metrodome, which cost the Packers the #2 seed in the NFC.
With Colin Kaepernick on the scene, the San Francisco 49ers have just served notice that they’ll be a force to be reckoned with for years to come. That could mean we’ll see more electrifying battles between the Packers and the 49ers as well.