Turns out having their first quarterback get injured midway through the season might have been the best thing that ever happened to the San Francisco 49ers, enjoying the evolution of Colin Kaepernick more than anyone ever thought.
A second year quarterback who simply doesn’t care about previous mistakes, like throwing an interception right off the bat to give the Packers a 7-0 lead. All that doesn’t matter. After a sluggish start, the Niners outscored the Packers 38-17 in a dominant 45-31 win, which looked even better than their opening day win in Green Bay.
Kaepernick took over the entire game, but did so much more, setting a new record for rushing yards by a quarterback, going for 181 yards, beating Michael Vick’s record from 2002 by 8 yards. Kaepernick also came back with his arm, finishing with 263 yards and two touchdown passes. The Niners simply ran all over the Packers’ D, finishing with 323 yards on the ground, while the Packers, as usual, failed to really mix it up, relying too much on Aaron Rodgers, finishing with 257 yards, two touchdowns passes and an interception.
Michael Crabtree was the man who enjoyed Kaepernick’s day more than anyone else, catching nine passes for 119 yards and a couple of touchdowns. The Packers’ secondary was so exposed after the team couldn’t handle the running game, it simply couldn’t keep up with the change in the Niners’ pistol offense.
The 49ers ran a season-high 45% plays out of the pistol set Saturday, while averaging 6.9 yards per play. Frank Gore had 16 rushes and a season-high 87 yards out of such sets, tied for the third-most rushes in pistol sets by a player in the past three seasons. Kaepernick rushed for 102 yards and a touchdown out of the pistol set, the most by a QB in the past three seasons. His 12.8 yards per rush was the highest by any rusher out of the pistol in the past five seasons.
Kaepernick finished with 6-11 on passes for at least 15 yards downfield, including 3-of-3 and a 20-yard touchdown when targeting Michael Crabtree. Kaepernick has completed 53.8 percent of his throws at least 15 yards downfield this season which is second in the NFL. People keep mentioning his running ability and the unexpected attribute in his skill set, but his ability to make big plays happen with his arm catches teams off guard time after time.
But the running from a quarterback is always special. Kaepernick ran for 178 yards before first contact, averaging 11.3 yards per carry on the day. Kaepernick had five scrambles for 75 yards and a 20-yard touchdown in the first half alone. He also collected 99 zone-read option rushing yards, including the game-winning 56-yard touchdown in the third quarter when several Packers over-committed to the running back.
The 49ers have gained 579 yards in this game, the most they’ve ever gained in a playoff game in franchise history and the 5th time they’ve gone over 450. The other 4 games on the list are in the Super Bowl – meaning that each time they’ve gained more than 450 yards, they won the Super Bowl.
Aaron Rodgers, maybe the best quarterback in the NFL, was surprised, in the end, by how the Niners handled him, hardly sending extra pressure on him, instead relying on their ability to cover his receivers. Their extra pressure worked really well as well, limited to 2-of-9 passing for 13 yards on such attempts after recording a league-high 80.1 Total QBR during his first 17 games.