SAN FRANCISCO — The unproven kid thoroughly beat the former Super Bowl champion and reigning MVP.
With a strong arm that allowed him to pick the Packers apart from the pocket and speedy legs that helped him break free for big gains, Colin Kaepernick did a little bit of everything in a record-setting, sensational playoff debut — and Aaron Rodgers just couldn’t keep up.
Kaepernick passed for 263 yards and ran the San Francisco 49ers right back to the NFC championship game with a 45-31 win over Green Bay in an NFC divisional game Saturday night.
Kaepernick rushed for a quarterback playoff record 181 yards and two touchdowns and threw two scoring passes to Michael Crabtree. Next up for the Niners: a game on Jan. 20 for a spot in the Super Bowl, against the winner of Sunday’s game between the Seattle Seahawks and Falcons at Atlanta.
“It feels good. We’re one step closer to where we want to be,” Kaepernick said. “I feel like I had a lot to prove. A lot of people doubted my ability to lead this team.”
And what a playoff debut it was by the second-year pro making just his eighth NFL start. No doubting Jim Harbaugh’s big midseason gamble switching quarterbacks now.
Rodgers never got in sync for the Packers (12-6), finishing 26 of 39 for 257 yards with two touchdowns.
Kaepernick ran for scores of 20 and 56 yards on the way to topping the rushing mark of 119 yards set by Michael Vick in 2005 against St. Louis. Crabtree caught TD passes of 12 and 20 yards in the second quarter and wound up with nine receptions and 119 yards for the Niners (12-4-1) in the NFC divisional matchup.
Kaepernick, sporting a burgundy beanie partially covering his head, was greeted at his locker after the game by former 49ers quarterback John Brodie.
San Francisco had 579 total yards with 323 on the ground, scoring its third-most points in the franchise’s storied playoff history.
“Our offensive line did an amazing job today,” Kaepernick said. “They shut everybody down inside. Our receivers, our tight ends, blocked great outside, and our running backs were running hard, so it made it easier on me.”
Frank Gore and Anthony Dixon each added 2-yard touchdown runs in the fourth quarter for the No. 2 seed NFC West champions, slim favorites on their home field in a rematch of Week 1. They added to their memorable night by setting a franchise postseason record for yards rushing, 119 of those by Gore to complement Kaepernick.
Rodgers, the former Cal star passed up by San Francisco with the No. 1 pick in the 2005 draft, never got going. Rodgers rooted for the Niners as a kid in Northern California.
This was another early exit for the Packers, who lost in the divisional playoffs to the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants a year ago and were denied a chance to defend the title they won after the 2010 season.
Those Green Bay road stars of two years ago — they won three away from Lambeau Field on the way to the Super Bowl — didn’t have it this time against San Francisco’s stingy defense and a no-fear, second-year quarterback who would not be denied. Kaepernick was born in Milwaukee and grew up a big Green Bay fan until the day he was drafted in 2011 out of Nevada.
“I didn’t know how fast he was,” Green Bay defensive back Charles Woodson said. “Coming in I really never paid attention to it. But he is fast.”
San Francisco advanced to back-to-back NFC title games for the first time since reaching three in a row following the 1992-94 seasons, with 1994 being their last trip to the Super Bowl.
With the sellout crowd at Candlestick Park waving red flags reading “Quest for Six” — a sixth Super Bowl title, that is — Kaepernick did his part and then some to deliver in the first key step. Even after an early interception that gave Green Bay all the momentum in a hostile road stadium.
49ers 45, Packers 31
Green Bay 14 7 3 7 — 31
San Francisco 7 17 7 14 — 45
GB—Shields 52 interception return (Crosby kick), 12:48.
SF—Kaepernick 20 run (Akers kick), 9:01.
GB—Harris 18 run (Crosby kick), :29.
SF—Crabtree 12 pass from Kaepernick (Akers kick), 10:59.
SF—Crabtree 20 pass from Kaepernick (Akers kick), 5:26.
GB—J.Jones 20 pass from Rodgers (Crosby kick), 2:33.
SF—FG Akers 36, :00.
GB—FG Crosby 31, 8:25.
SF—Kaepernick 56 run (Akers kick), 7:07.
SF—Gore 2 run (Akers kick), 14:57.
SF—Dixon 2 run (Akers kick), 3:34.
GB—G.Jennings 3 pass from Rodgers (Crosby kick), :57.
GB SF First downs 20 29
Total Net Yards 352 579
Rushes-yards 16-104 43-323
Passing 248 256
Punt Returns 2-0 1-0
Kickoff Returns 4-71 2-23
Interceptions Ret. 1-52 1-39
Comp-Att-Int 26-39-1 17-31-1
Sacked-Yards Lost 1-9 1-7
Punts 4-47.0 3-44.3
Fumbles-Lost 3-1 1-0
Penalties-Yards 5-26 8-86
Time of Possession 21:59 38:01
RUSHING—Green Bay, Harris 11-53, Rodgers 3-28, Cobb 2-23. San Francisco, Kaepernick 16-181, Gore 23-119, James 3-21, Dixon 1-2.
PASSING—Green Bay, Rodgers 26-39-1-257. San Francisco, Kaepernick 17-31-1-263.
RECEIVING—Green Bay, G.Jennings 6-54, Nelson 5-46, Cobb 5-24, J.Jones 4-87, Finley 4-35, Harris 2-11. San Francisco, Crabtree 9-119, Gore 2-48, Moss 2-25, V.Davis 1-44, Walker 1-17, James 1-7, Ginn Jr. 1-3.
MISSED FIELD GOALS—None.