By Brandon Burnett
Cold, Hard Football Facts Wizard of the NFC West (@B_Burnett49er)
And just like that, the San Francisco 49ers are back in the NFC Championship Game.
The Niners, having entered the postseason with numerous question marks, perhaps answered every one of them in resounding fashion Saturday night with a convincing divisional round victory over the visiting Green Bay Packers.
The final score? 45-31, home team.
Second-year QB Colin Kaepernick was simply unstoppable in his first career postseason start under center, racking up a total of 446 yards, including an NFL record (for a QB) 181 rushing yards. The Milwaukee, Wisc. native overcame a pick-six on the first drive of the game and was practically flawless the rest of the way.
Entering the half, it seemed as though we would have yet another epic battle on our hands. The Ravens and Broncos had just finished up their double overtime thriller, and the Niners entered the break of the late game leading by just a field goal.
But the Green and Gold defense, as was the case in the first half, would have no answer for the dual-threat Kaepernick and the Red and Gold offense. At one point in the second half, SF would string together three straight drives of at least 80 yards, each capped off with a TD.
49ers now await their next opponent after record-setting performance.
Never before Saturday night's win had the 49ers, a franchise that boasts five Super Bowl wins, piled up this many yards in a playoff game.
The Niners O piled up 579 yards in all, certainly more than any Joe Montana or Steve Young-led offense had ever accrued in a single postseason performance. The previous franchise record was 537 yards for Montana's 1984 team in their 38-16 win over Dan Marino and the Dolphins in Super Bowl XIX.
Knowing that Kaepernick helped his team accomplish such a historic feat in just his first career postseason start brings great promise to this organization's already bright future.
That said, the 49ers next opponent will likely provide a much stiffer test, at least from a defensive standpoint.
Whether it be the Seahawks or Falcons that emerge victorious from Sunday's battle in Atlanta, Kaepernick will have his work cut out for him. A Seattle win would mean another home game for the Niners, but it would also bring one of the toughest defenses in the NFL back to the Bay Area.
The Hawks finished No. 3 in Defensive Passer Rating in 2012 and haven't lost or allowed more than 17 points in a game since November. They dominated the 49ers at home in Week 15, but lost to SF at Candlestick Park 13-6 back in Week 7.
Should Atlanta top the Seahawks at home, the 49ers must make their way to the Georgia Dome for a chance to play in the Super Bowl. Defensively, the Falcons are no slouches, either.
Packers head home after unusually sloppy performance.
It's not often a playoff team that finished the season No. 1 in Passer Rating Differential bows out of the postseason with such a lackluster defensive effort.
There wasn't much wrong with Aaron Rodgers and the offense, they just didn't have the ball nearly enough in the game. In fact, SF dominated the time of possession battle, hogging the pigskin for 38:01 to GB's 21:59.
The Packers defense allowed a whopping 7.7 yards per play. The unit surrendered eight third-down conversions on just 13 attempts. Aside from Sam Shields' 52-yard pick-six to open the game, no member of the defense accomplished anything worthy of garnering a helmet sticker.
And with that, another promising season for the Packers ends in a divisional round defeat.
Should we have seen this coming, though? Green Bay was just 4-4 on the road during the regular season and allowed 30 or more points in three of those defeats. Even after the wildcard win over Minnesota, this team just didn't seem to carry that championship-caliber swagger.
Dom Capers and his defense have got some 'splainin to do.
Will the 49ers finish their unfinished business?
It was only one game, but this certainly looks like a team with realistic plans of hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.
But can the 49ers avoid stumbling in the NFC Championship game for a second consecutive year? We won't know until the time comes, but one could make a convincing case that this team is the favorite out of the NFC to reach New Orleans.
Then again, there's a good chance they'll have to get through the divisional rival Seahawks, first. And wouldn't that be a sight to see? After so many years of miserable football coming out of the NFC West, we just might be talking about the conference's strongest division.
The more suitable opponent for San Fran would likely be Atlanta, but a Falcons win would mean a road game for the Niners. So, either way, they'll have their work cut out for them.
After a performance like this, though, it's apparent they'll be up to the task.