First Down/Fourth Down: 49ers advance as Colin Kaepernick foils the Packers again
In three previous games against the Green Bay Packers in his three-year career, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick had laid waste to Dom Capers' defense each time. The result was no different on Sunday, when the 49ers beat Green Bay 23-20 to advance from the wild-card round, though the methods by which Kaepernick torments the Pack seem to change a bit every time. There were the 181 rushing yards he put up in last season's divisional round victory, an NFL-record for a quarterback in a single game. Then, there were the 414 passing yards in Week 1 of this season -- another bravura performance, and another win for the 49ers.
This time, it was a balanced attack. The passing game didn't always fly through the sub-zero temperatures at Lambeau Field, and Kaepernick was limited to 16 completions in 30 attempts for 227 yards, one touchdown and one interception. But his 28-yard touchdown pass to Vernon Davis with 10:31 left in the game put San Francisco up 20-17 -- and the 49ers would never trail again. On the final drive that ended with Phil Dawson's 33-yard game-winning field goal, Kaepernick had a 3rd-and-8 from the Green Bay 38 with 1:13 left in the game, and he ran to the left sideline for an 11-yard gain. It was a huge play, giving him 98 yards rushing on seven carries overall, and yet another example of the Packers' inability to get a bead on San Francisco's quarterback.
"Just trying to figure out a way to get that first down," Kaepernick told FOX Sports' Erin Andrews after the game about that run. "We had a play called, and we didn't get the look that we wanted, and it worked out for us."
It certainly did. And for the second straight season, the Packers were sent home by the third-year man from Nevada.
• First Down: San Francisco's defense.
Of course, it wasn't just Kaepernick who continued this narrative -- the 49ers defense did a tremendous job of containing Aaron Rodgers all day. Rodgers is at his best when he's allowed to leave the pocket when he wants to, giving his talented receivers extra time to win downfield matchups. In this game, endbackers Aldon Smith and Ray McDonald were particularly effective at holding Rodgers in the octagon with their pass-rush concepts. It wasn't just the season-high four sacks that kept Rodgers to 177 yards on 17 completions -- it was also that Rodgers had to manipulate an ever-shrinking pocket. The Packers gained just six yards in the first quarter, and 140 in the first half.
"Aaron's a guy who, once he gets in rhythm, he makes a lot of plays," linebacker NaVorro Bowman said after the game. "Today, we wanted to keep him in the cage, and we did that for the most part."
• Fourth Down: Ed Hochuli's frozen officiating.
Hochuli is generally one of the more busy and verbose officials in the game, but on Sunday, he may have had a greater desire to get out of the Lambeau cold than get his usual facetime allotment on national television. Hochuli's crew called a total of five penalties in the game, and at least twice that many infractions could have been called. Were Hochuli to serve as his own counsel (he is a lawyer, after all), he could argue that the lack of officiating didn't affect one team more than another. And in that regard, he'd be correct. Both teams got away with obvious holding and pass interference calls, Packers left tackle David Bakhtiari put on a holding clinic at times, the 49ers got away with an illegal bat on a fourth-quarter kickoff, and Rodgers' amazing artistry on his fourth-quarter completion to Randall Cobb shouldn't have even happened, because center Evan Dietrich-Smith was clearly and egregiously holding McDonald on the play.
Perhaps Ed was just trying to avoid any obvious mistakes so that he could stay eligible for a Super Bowl assignment, but his no-calls amounted to quite a few blown calls.
• First Down: Eddie Lacy's truck stick running style.
One guy San Francisco's defense had a bit of trouble with was running back Eddie Lacy, the rookie from Alabama who continued the bulldozing running style he's been so effective with all season. Lacy gained 81 yards on 21 carries, but his effect on the game went far beyond the stats. As he has all season, Lacy established a style that Green Bay's offense has been missing for years. It's one that allowed them to match San Francisco's power-running game muscle for muscle.
Just ask 49ers safety Donte Whitner about that.
(GIF courtesy Bleacher Report)
• Fourth Down: What might have been for the Packers.
With all that legitimate praise for Kaepernick, one wonders what might have happened for the Packers had Rodgers not missed seven full games, and the better part of a eighth, with a collarbone injury. Green Bay was 2-5-1 in those games without Rodgers, and 8-7-1 on the season. He wasn't at his best against San Francisco's stout defense, but he almost pulled it off anyway, despite the absence of several injured Green Bay defenders. Rodgers said after the game that he wondered if this was a season of destiny because he and Randall Cobb were able to come back for the playoff run. Maybe in another year. Mike McCarthy's team can only look back and speculate now.
• First Down: Michael Crabtree's continued effect on San Francisco's passing game.
Speaking of with/without comparisons, the 49ers are now 6-0 since Crabtree returned from the torn Achilles' tendon he suffered in the offseason. Just as it was in last year's Super Bowl run, Kaepernick and Crabtree continue to show a rare and productive chemistry that manifests itself in many ways. Not only because Crabtree pads the stat sheets, but because he forces defenses to leave things more open for the run, and the attention put on Crabtree in coverage allows other targets to get open and stay open -- most notably Vernon Davis. Crabtree led all receivers on both teams with eight catches for 125 yards, and though he didn't score a touchdown, he proved once again why this team is going to be a very tough out as long as he's around.
• Fourth Down: John Kuhn's failed Lambeau Leap.
The burly fullback is a folk hero in Green Bay, but he may lose that status after this awful attempt at a Lambeau Leap following his third-quarter touchdown. Get some vertical, dude.
(GIF courtesy BuzzFeed)
• First Down: Ric Flair's pre-game pep talk for the 49ers.
Well, no wonder they won. No team is going to drop a game after the Nature Boy gets them going!
— San Francisco 49ers (@49ers) January 5, 2014