The Niners went to Green Bay for Wild Card weekend for the latest installment of their bi-annual Holy War against the Green Bay Packers. The game was a seesaw affair, played in Arctic conditions, that San Francisco barely survived, winning on a last-second, tie-breaking, 33-yard field goal by Phil Dawson. But it wasn’t stressful. Nope. Not at all. Whhyy arrrre my hhhhands shakinnnng? I’d better get to the awards.
The Joe Montana Award (Coolest Player on the Field): Colin Kaepernick
For the second week in a row, The Niners’ young quarterback led two clutch fourth quarter drives to guide his team to victory. The first came after the Packers took a 17-13 lead with just over 12 minutes left in the fourth quarter, thanks largely to a deflating fourth-down conversion the Packers should have lost had the referees flagged an obvious holding penalty. But Kaepernick responded by marching the Niners right back down the field, first by taking off on a 24-yard run into Packers territory, then by throwing a 28-yard dart to Vernon Davis for a touchdown that briefly gave the Niners the lead. Then, after Aaron Rodgers brought the Packers back to tie the game, Kaepernick responded with another key drive that included the play of the game: On third-and-eight, with 1:13 on the clock and the ball on the Green Bay 38-yard line, Kaepernick stood in the pocket, pump-faked, then pulled the ball down and scrambled around left tackle. He was in a race to the sticks with a Green Bay linebacker, but Kaepernick beat him to the edge—because he’s Colin Kaepernick and the Green Bay linebacker is a Green Bay linebacker—for an 11-yard gain and a critical first down.
A few moments later, Dawson hit the game-winning kick. In a vacuum, Kaepernick’s numbers may not seem overly impressive—16-for-30, 227 yards, one TD, one INT, and 7 rushes for 98 yards (that last part is actually pretty impressive, though it pales next to the 181 he got against the Pack in last year’s playoffs)—but make no mistake, the Niners’ young QB was the single biggest reason they won the game yesterday. Also, dude played yesterday’s game with no sleeves. I have tattoos, so let me assure you—tattoos do not keep you warm. What a badass.
The Michael Crabtree Award (Chemistry with Colin Kaepernick): Michael Crabtree
All year, we wondered how Crabtree’s return from a torn Achilles tendon would impact the Niners offense. It surely seemed like the offense improved since his return, with Davis and Anquan Boldin finding more room to work down the field, but his numbers have been fairly pedestrian. That changed this week, with Crabtree posting 8 catches for 125 yards. He had 70 yards on the Niners’ first drive alone, and made several key fourth quarter catches to aid San Francisco’s rally. Watching the game, you could see shades of the Kaepernick-Crabtree connection that was so potent in last year’s playoffs, and if that continues, the rest of the league had better watch out.
The Emmett Smith Award (Most Hated Opponent): Aaron Rodgers
I don’t really hate Aaron Rodgers. As someone who grew up in and around Berkeley, I have a soft spot for anyone who played at Cal. And as much as I love Colin Kapernick and almost everything that has happened with this San Francisco team in the last few years, I am still so, so bitter that the Niners passed on Rodgers to take Alex Smith with the first pick in the 2005 draft. Rodgers grew up a Niners fan, he went to Cal, he was clearly the best QB in the draft … and the Niners took Smith instead. It’s like it was TOO perfect. I’ll never understand it. And Rodgers almost made the Niners pay, tearing San Francisco’s vaunted defense apart from the beginning of the second quarter on, including an almost unbelievable Houdini act (aided by an obvious holding penalty by Packers center Evan Dietrich-Smith that the referees didn’t flag) he pulled to escape a sack and complete a fourth-down throw to Randall Cobb on the drive that briefly gave the Packers the lead.
His numbers (17-for-26, 177 yards, one TD), may look pedestrian, but make no mistake: Rodgers was a freaking mensch in this game.
Nostradamus Award: Justin Goldman
That’s right, motherfuckers, me!!! Just read this sentence from my Friday picks column: “I think the Niners hold too many advantages, I think the poor conditions will end up accentuating those advantages, and I think the Niners will win 23-20.” It looked to me like the conditions did bother the Packers more than the Niners, and I hit the nail on the head with the score.
Also, don’t read the rest of that column. My powers of prescience are apparently limited to Niners-Packers games.
Overall Rating For This Game (On a scale of Zero to Twelve Anchors, in honor of San Francisco’s favorite beverage): 9 Anchors
That was quite a barn-burner wasn’t it? (The players and fans in the stadium probably wished they could burn a barn for warmth, anyway.) The Niners dominated the first quarter, but settled for field goals on their first two drives, and then watched the Packers bounce back after Kaepernick threw a bad interception on a drive that was looking like it would stake San Francisco to a two-possession lead. From the time Green Bay got on the board in the second quarter, it was clear this game was going down to the wire—especially since the refs seemed determined to avoid throwing flags at all costs. (For the record, as much as I have bitched about the non-holding-call, I much prefer the let-the-players-play approach to the throw-a-bullshit-flag-on-a-clearly-legal-hit-and-potentially-ruin-a-team’s-season shit we’ve seen from the referees at times this season.) It was historically cold, which adds a certain theatricality to the game—it’s just cool watching the mist come from the players’ mouths on the field. There was some slapstick comedy, with John Kuhn’s failed Lambeau leap, and even the chip-shot winning field goal was nerve-wracking, as it went between the arms of a diving Green Bay player.
The bottom line is, we got to watch two longtime rivals duke it out in a classic, win-or-go-home playoff game—which, praise the football gods, the right team won. That gets 9 Anchors—the most I’ve awarded a game this season. Now, the Niners will be rewarded for their efforts with a trip to Carolina to play a Panthers team that may be their NFL doppelganger. I’ll cover that in my picks column later this week. For now, I need another beer. And a nap.