GREEN BAY, Wis. – In the bitter cold on their home turf, the cardiac Packers ran out of fourth-quarter magic.
Aaron Rodgers threw for 177 yards and a touchdown, and a depleted defense held its own against the San Francisco 49ers until dual-threat quarterback Colin Kaepernick again helped end another season in Green Bay in a 23-20 win.
“Personally, it’s frustrating not to play your best game. Tough conditions,” Rodgers said. “But defense holds them to 23 points – we should win that game.”
Phil Dawson kicked a 33-yard field goal as time expired, and Kaepernick threw for 227 yards and ran for another 98.
In a back-and-forth fourth quarter, the 49ers (13-4) threw the final punch. Kaepernick escaped a blitz on third-and-8 and scrambled for an 11-yard gain to the 27 with 1:13 left.
“Just trying to figure out a way to get that first down,” Kaepernick said. “Had a play called, we didn’t get the look that we wanted. It worked out for us.”
Dawson nailed the winning kick five plays later – but only after nearly being blocked by edge rusher Davon House. He was whistled for offsides on the play, but the 49ers declined the penalty with the win in hand.
The defending NFC champions came away with a huge win in conditions that resembled a meat locker. It was 5 degrees at kickoff, and the winds made it feel like minus 10.
San Francisco plays at Carolina next Sunday in the divisional round.
The Packers pack up for the offseason Monday. A season full of adversity, which included nearly two months without Rodgers because of a left collarbone injury, came to an end.
And yet, Green Bay still finished the season 3-1 with dramatic, come-from-behind wins to nudge its way back into the playoffs.
“This is what playoff football is all about. We’ve been playing these kind of games here the last month. The confidence never wavered,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “We weren’t quite good enough today.”
Mason Crosby’s 24-yard field goal tied it at 20 for the Packers (8-8-1) with 5:06 left before the 49ers’ final drive.
Until then, Rodgers did his best to turn into “Captain Comeback” again. After a slow first quarter, Rodgers finished 17 of 26 with an interception.
Kaepernick connected with a spinning Vernon Davis down the seam for a 28-yard touchdown pass with 10:39 left. The score quickly answered John Kuhn’s 1-yard touchdown run that briefly gave the Packers a four-point lead.
That TD was set up after Rodgers, in the clutches of a 49ers defender, somehow managed to escape a sack on fourth-and-2 and found Randall Cobb for a 26-yard gain to the Niners 4.
“I felt a guy swiping at the ball, so I tried to pull it away from him and was being grabbed,” Rodgers said. Next thing he knew, he was free, “so I just moved to my right and saw Randall and threw it to him.”
Eddie Lacy ran for 81 yards on 21 carries for the Packers, while Frank Gore had 66 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries for the 49ers.
Michael Crabtree had eight catches for 125 yards for San Francisco.
But it was Kaepernick who was the difference-maker once again in San Francisco’s fourth straight win over Green Bay. He finished 16 of 30 with the touchdown and an interception.
He also had seven carries, including a 42-yarder in the first half.
“It was unbelievable, the way he was getting the edge. I mean, just clutch,” Harbaugh said. “Colin Kaepernick, I think we can all agree, is a clutch performer.”
For the second year in a row, the Packers’ season has started and ended with losses to the 49ers. The latest edition of what’s turned into a chippy and heated rivalry took place on the worn, frozen turf of Lambeau Field.
The Packers went without a first down in the first quarter before finally getting on the board with a methodical 14-play, 70-yard drive that ended with Rodgers’ 5-yard touchdown pass to Jordy Nelson that gave the Packers a 7-6 lead with 5:50 left in the half. The drive was set up by Tramon Williams’ 17-yard interception of Kaepernick to the 49ers 30.
Notes: The depleted Packers defense – already playing without linebacker Clay Matthews – lost two more starters Sunday in cornerback Sam Shields and linebacker Mike Neal to knee injuries. ... It was the seventh-coldest game at Lambeau Field since 1959, and the fourth-coldest postseason game at the stadium. ... Kuhn has scored a touchdown in each of the last five postseasons.