The offense wasn't as explosive, and they needed a last-second field goal, but Jim Harbaugh and Colin Kaepernick seem to have this "beat the Packers" thing down.
With a 23-20 win in Lambeau Field, the 49ers advanced to the divisional round of the playoffs, and beat Green Bay for the third time in the calendar year.
Kaepernick didn’t dominate the Pack with his legs like he did in the playoffs last year, when he rushed for 181 yards and two touchdowns. He didn’t pick apart the secondary like he did in Week 1 this season with 412 passing yards and three touchdowns.
But the third-year quarterback had a few key plays to push the Niners to victory in ridiculously frigid temperatures, with no play more crucial than his first-down run late in the fourth quarter.
On third-and-8 with 1:13 to go from the Packers’ 38-yard line, Kaepernick took the shotgun snap and got pressure from his blind side. Jarrett Bush blitzed but took an inside move and lost contain on the edge. That’s all Kaepernick needed to go left around Bush and scramble for 11 yards and a first down. Phil Dawson kicked the game-winning field goal as time expired.
Kaepernick’s other huge run set up a touchdown, when he broke free up the middle in the second quarter for 42 yards. Frank Gore rushed it in two plays later.
For the second offseason in a row, Dom Capers and his Packers defense will have the lingering memories of Kaeperick breaking loose, also his touchdown throw to Vernon Davis between two defenders in the fourth quarter, which gave San Francisco a 20-17 lead at the time.
Aside from those three plays, an undermanned defense played pretty well for Green Bay. Mike Neal and Sam Shields both left the game with injuries, yet they held Frank Gore to only 3.3 yards a carry, and Tramon Williams got a key interception of Kaepernick in the second quarter. That led to a 14-play, 70-yard touchdown drive.
In a year when the Packers rushed for almost 27 more yards a game than last season, it was fitting that the run kept them in it against a stout 49ers defense.
Rookie of the Year candidate Eddie Lacy had 21 carries for 81 yards, John Kuhn had a touchdown plunge, and James Starks added 29 yards on five carries. Aaron Rodgers threw for only 177 yards, but made two throws to Randall Cobb in broken-play situations (sound familiar?). Cobb’s only two catches led to 10 Packers points.
In the end, though, the inability to contain Kaepernick doomed the Packers for the second postseason in a row, and a miraculous run to the playoffs that included last week’s win at Soldier Field is over.
Rodgers’ injury and a defense that ranked 25th made the Packers’ run to the NFC North title especially difficult, and defensive starters Ryan Pickett, B.J. Raji, Sam Shields and Michael Neal are all set to be free agents. Like the Bears, the Packers need to both fix their defense, and figure out how certain veterans fit in to their 2014 plans.
In addition to noting how the Niners beat the Pack, again, the Bears and their fans should pay close attention to the rest of the playoffs. Next week’s divisional round features four teams the Bears play next season – New England, San Francisco, Carolina and New Orleans.
• Kevin Fishbain covers the NFL for Shaw Media and HubArkush.com. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.