49ers And Kaepernick Are Just Warming Up
It wasn’t The Drive or The Catch but the clinching drive was plenty good enough for 49ers fans, and it might end up the same way, with a win in the Super Bowl.
The Packers had driven inside the 49er 10 but the drive stalled and Mason Crosby kicked a field goal to tie the game.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers had made several big plays during the Packers’ drive, especially in escaping what seemed like a sure sack. But he was one big play away from grabbing the lead and forcing the Niners to go for a touchdown.
So it came down to Colin Kaepernick. He’d had a solid day, throwing the ball well, though he made one bad throw that was picked off. Kaepernick had depended on his running to move the Niners.
The quarterback’s legs proved crucial in the decisive 14-play, 65-yard drive that used up the final 5:06. Kaepernick ran the ball twice, looking like a thoroughbred going against plow horses, and one was a third-and-long situation.
The Packers nearly spoiled it all. Early in the drive, Micah Hyde anticipated the play, and jumped in front of an errant pass directed to Anquan Boldin. But Hyde couldn’t snatch the ball, and the 49ers never looked back.
It appeared that the Packers would get the ball back. But their defense, which had been stalwart all afternoon, could not stop the Niners running game when they had to. They used up their final two timeouts, and still the Niners kept coming.
Michael Crabtree had a key catch on that final drive, as he seemed to in all the 49er drives. He caught eight balls for 125 yards, and he was elusive, making the Packers miss after catching it.
The 49ers offense was stuck in first gear just before Crabtree rejoined the team after being injured. The team got back in gear upon his return.
The 49ers took control of the game from the beginning, and their offense could gain yards seemingly at will. Yet their first two drives deep into Packer territory yielded only field goals, as Green Bay’s defense bent without breaking. It was 13-10, Niners, at halftime, and the third quarter was owned by the defenses.
The fourth quarter was owned by the quarterbacks and the offenses. The Packers, finally getting their running game going with Eddie Lacy, marched down the field on an 80-yard drive. The Niners answered with a 63-yard drive, including Kaepernick’s best run of the day of 42 yards. San Francisco scored with a 28-yard pass to Vernon Davis, who hadn’t done much before then.
And then the Packers marched again. Rodgers made some great plays getting away from defenders and finding receivers, but down at the goal line he on third down he couldn’t find anyone, and just ran a couple of yards. That proved to be his final play of the game.
Packers fans don’t have a scapegoat, but they have plenty of what-ifs. What if Rodgers had just thrown it up for, say, Jordy Nelson to make a play on that third-down play? What if the Packers had been bolder?
For their part, 49ers fans believe their team outplayed the Packers for most of the day, and couldn’t get quite get over the hump. They could point to the refs swallowing their whistles, probably helping the Packers a bit more. It looked like Aldon Smith was being held on a number of plays.
The worst non-call was on the Niners’ second drive. It appeared that Crabtree was grabbed and held in the end zone on a third-down play. The ball was batted away, and the Niners had to kick a field goal. Packers receivers were probably held a couple of times later in the game, though not quite so egregiously as Crabtree was on that play. Perhaps the officials figured they had to let it all go once they’d allowed it once. In any case, it looked like there was a lot of holding going on that wasn’t called.
There was a lot of talk about the cold weather. It didn’t appear to be much of a factor. The game had only one turnover, Kaepernick’s floated pass that was picked off by Tramon Williams.
So the Niners pass an early test and head to Carolina. They look as if they’re all the way back from a midseason funk that saw many question their offense, especially their quarterback play. Kaepernick showed not just speed but grit and confidence on that final drive.
This game resembled others on a wild weekend. Road warriors won three of four games, and I still don’t quite know how the Colts came back at home to beat the Chiefs. And the injury plague continues. The Packers lost three players to injury in this game, just as the Chiefs lost several players in their game Saturday.
As we know, the NFL is a war of attrition, a grinding battle with a few soaring moments and dozens of brutal man-to-man battles. But the emphasis the league has put on safety is not showing up in injury statistics.