Three and Out: Kap's toughness, Cox's major role
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What you need to know: Colin Kaepernick, who grew up rooting for Green Bay, has turned into a Packers killer.
He has beaten them with his legs. And he has beaten with his arm.
On Sunday, he did a little bit of both with some big throws and some big runs, as the 49ers took care of business with a riveting 23-20 victory over the Packers at Lambeau Field in the wild-card round of the NFC playoffs.
Kaepernick had a beautiful 28-yard touchdown pass to Vernon Davis to give the 49ers a 20-17 lead early in the fourth quarter.
On the next drive after the Packers tied the score, Kaepernick converted big third downs with a pass to Michael Crabtree and an 11-yard run to set up Phil Dawson’s 33-yard field goal as time expired.
Kaepernick threw for 227 yards, and he also rushed for 98 yards to extend the 49ers’ season at least another week. The 49ers advance to the NFC divisional round against the Carolina Panthers next Sunday.
As he did a year ago in the postseason, Kaepernick’s full arsenal of athleticism was unleashed against the Packers. He rushed for 181 yards to send Green Bay packing a year ago. It was the most yards rushing for a quarterback in NFL history.
He did not set any records on Sunday, but he caused all kinds of frustration for the Packers, again.
“There wasn’t a whole lot being called out there today,” 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said of referee Ed Hochuli's crew. “Our receivers were getting grabbed. I think Colin saw that and just took matters into his own hands.
“He was around the edge so fast that if it was a yard, it was 20. Unbelievable . . . Colin Kaepernick, I think we all can agree, is a clutch performer.”
The most clutch sequence came after the Packers tied the score with five minutes remaining. The 49ers then produced the kind of drive that they needed to chew up the clock to leave no time for Aaron Rodgers to respond.
Kaepernick and the 49ers converted 50 percent (6 of 12) on third downs throughout the course of the game.
“He played hard,” running back Frank Gore said. “We needed a play, and he got it, whether he was throwing the ball or running. He’s a tough guy. And when you have a quarterback like that, you’ll do whatever for him.”
Gore provided a big block for Kaepernick on a crucial third and 8 from the Green Bay 38. Gore picked up a blitz off the left side, enabling Kaepernick to get to the corner for an 11-yard gain.
“Every gap was filled,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “We’re in an empty pressure call, and it’s the right call, and he gets out to his left. Obviously, it’s a big play in the game to continue that drive.
“You’re looking for a potential sack or the ball coming out on time there. We did not get it done as far as keeping the quarterback in the pocket.”
The 49ers did not seem to be impacted by the arctic weather conditions. It was 5 degrees when the game kicked off. The wind-chill factor was minus-10 degrees when the game started and dipped as low as minus-20.
“One thing I love about this team is that when we start to struggle and it gets tough, they continue to keep on pushing and they don’t give up,” Davis said. “They give all that they have, every inch of their body, and they just keep on coming.”
Dawson’s kick: After spending his first 14 seasons with the Cleveland Browns, Dawson is leaving an indelible mark with the 49ers. He broke the franchise record with 27 consecutive made field goals.
And one week after providing the winning points as time expired in the 49ers’ regular-season finale, Dawson did it again to enable the 49ers to advance in the playoffs.
“I’ve waited a long time to win a playoff game,” Dawson said, “and I finally got to do it and it was well worth the wait.”
Harbaugh said he would have called on Dawson to attempt a late field goal from 48 yards in the frigid conditions. The 49ers moved to the Green Bay 27-yard line with a minute remaining when Kaepernick gained 11 yards on a third-and-8 play. Then, Frank Gore set up Dawson’s kick with runs of 5, 2, 3 and 2 yards.
“I owe that kick to the whole offense,” Dawson said. “To put a drive together like that under any conditions is big time, but especially with all the factors working against us.”
Keeping heat on Rodgers: The 49ers sacked Rodgers four times. And even when Rodgers made a big play, it was usually because he somehow escaped the rush to find receivers open down the field.
“That was the big offense that they had,” Harbaugh said. “I thought our defense played extremely well.”
The 49ers held Rodgers to 177 yards. The 49ers also sacked Rodgers four times for minus-20 yards.
Cornerback Perrish Cox, who the 49ers re-signed five days earlier after the Seattle Seahawks released him, stepped up big in the absence of Carlos Rogers. Cox played the entire game as the nickel back, the vital role that Rogers has held in the 49ers’ defense since his arrival in 2011.
“It’s the craziest time ever,” Cox said. “This whole week, I was thinking I had to be as perfect as I could be. My teammates trusted me, and my coaches trusted me to get out there and play the nickel. And I did my best.
“I didn’t play a perfect game, but we got the victory, so I think I did what I needed to do.”
Tramaine Brock and Tarell Brown started on the outside, while Cox got the nod to play over Eric Wright. Ironically, the 49ers released Cox on Nov. 12 to make room for Wright to be activated from the reserve/non-football illness list.
Michael Grab-tree: Wide receiver Michael Crabtree helped get the 49ers going on Sunday with four catches for 70 yards on the first drive of the game. And on the final drive, Crabtree came up with a 17-yard catch on a third-and-10 play.
Harbaugh, who in May of 2012 said he believed Crabtree has the best hands he has ever seen, reiterated that remark after the game.
“The greatest catcher of all time, Michael Crabtree catches everything,” Harbaugh said. “It’s unbelievable. In the northern snow lands, down the tropics sunny scenes, he’s catching the football. Wherever they throw a football, he’ll be catching it.
“If my life depended on it, and somebody had to catch a ball, I’d enlist Michael Crabtree to do it.”
Crabtree had eight receptions for 125 yards. Last year in the playoffs, Crabtree had nine catches for 119 yards and two touchdowns against Green Bay.
Sleeveless Kaepernick: Harbaugh said he asked Kaepernick before the game if he wanted to wear sleeves. “He said, ‘No, I’ve played in colder.’”
“I feel it’s more mental than anything,” Kaepernick said.
When reminded that he wore sleeves and gloves in his cold-weather games at Nevada, Kaepernick said, “Well, at Nevada we didn't have jackets on the sideline, beanies or heaters, so it’s a little bit different.”
The 49ers’ offensive linemen wore sleeves. When asked about his quarterback’s insisting to go with bare arms, 49ers left tackle Joe Staley said, “He has tattoos he needs to show off.”
--Ahmad Brooks, who was chosen as a second-team All-Pro at outside linebacker, recorded two sacks. He has four sacks in the postseason. . .
--Outside linebacker Aldon Smith battled dehydration and cramps in the first half to record 1 1Ž2 sacks. “The focus for us this week was getting pressure on the quarterback.” . . .
--Since 1970, only nine franchises have won 13-or-more games, including the playoffs, in at least three consecutive seasons. The 49ers (13-4) accomplished that feat for the third time in franchise history – the only team to accomplish the feat more than once (1996-98; 1987-90; 2011-2013). Harbaugh became the first coach to win 13-or-more games, including the playoffs, in his first three seasons as a head coach. . .
--The Packers lost a fourth consecutive game to the 49ers, including two seasons in a row in the playoffs. “It hurts,” Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy said. “Yeah, it hurts.” . . .
--Defensive lineman Demarcus Dobbs was the only 49ers player on the injury report. He left the game in the first half with a knee injury. . .
--Vernon Davis has six receiving touchdowns in six postseason games. He ranks second all-time among tight ends with six postseason touchdowns. Former Raiders tight end Dave Casper leads with seven scoring catches. . .
Quote of the day: “He’s Kaepernick tough. Pretty awesome.”
--49ers coach Jim Harbaugh
Looking ahead: There remains a chance that Candlestick Park could host one final game. The 49ers travel to take on the Carolina Panthers on Sunday at 10 a.m. (PT) in a divisional round game in the NFC playoffs. If the New Orleans Saints defeat the Seattle Seahawks on Saturday, and the 49ers beat the Panthers, the 49ers would play host to the Saints at Candlestick Park on Jan. 19 to earn the right to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.
The 49ers, however, lost to the Panthers 10-9 on Nov. 12 when the teams played at Candlestick. Said Kaepernick, “We owe them.”