GREEN BAY—If Tuesday’s conference calls with Packers media are any indication, the mood of the San Francisco 49ers can be described as guarded and focused.
“The mood of the team is we have to go out and perform well and win. We’re going to have to play one of our best games to win,” 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick said.
Kaepernick and his coach, Jim Harbaugh, chose their words carefully during separate phone interviews with reporters. Harbaugh didn’t buy into the notion that his 49ers were physically dominant in their 30-22 win at Lambeau Field in the season opener, and Kaepernick danced around the topic of not having postseason experience, by likening Saturday’s divisional-round playoff game to just “another football game to me.”
“I agree that we won the game,” Harbaugh said of the season opener, in which the 49ers rushed for 186 yards and dominated time of possession by six minutes.
“Dominated? No. I wouldn’t characterize it as that,” he added.
Most analysts are characterizing this Saturday night’s game as a classic clash of run vs. pass. The 49ers have the league’s No. 4 rushing game, but the No. 23 passing attack. The Packers have the league’s top-rated passer, Aaron Rodgers.
The 49ers’ passing attack has actually moved up the rankings since Kaepernick took over for Alex Smith. Kaepernick’s rating, 98.3, isn’t as high as Smith’s, 104.1, but Kaepernick has passed Smith in passing yards though he’s started fewer games.
Kaepernick’s real value is thought to be as a runner. He’s the 49ers’ second-leading rusher with 415 yards, a 6.6 yards-per-carry average that includes five rushing touchdowns. He’s thrown for 10 scores.
“He’s improved in all phases. Not dramatically because I think he was good to start with,” Harbaugh said of Kaepernick, who would cement his status as the 49ers’ quarterback of the future should he take the 49ers deep into this postseason. “Once he started, he was already good, but across the board he’s improved. Not dramatically but to some degree in every area.”
Kaepernick was born in Milwaukee but left there for California at the age of four. The Packers, however, remained his favorite team.
“They were the only team I watched. I remember growing up watching Brett Favre every Sunday. He was just a playmaker. He wasn’t afraid to take chances,” Kaepernick said.
Not afraid to take chances is a phrase that would seem to also describe Kaepernick’s style of play. He especially likes to take chances with his legs, which carried him for a 17-yard gain on the only play in which he participated in the season opener.
The irony of the Kaepernick-Rodgers matchup is that Rodgers grew up in northern California as a 49ers fan.
“There’s concern about a lot of things,” Harbaugh said when asked if he’s concerned that Kaepernick has never started a postseason game. “Our biggest challenge is the Green Bay Packers. That’s where the greatest share of the concern is.”
In a flash of personality, Harbaugh then recalled his days in youth football in Ohio and at the University of Michigan.
“Coaches used to say, ‘These guys are good but they’re not the Green Bay Packers, for God’s sake.' Now here we are playing the Green Bay Packers,” Harbaugh said with a laugh, and he then showered these Packers with praise.
“They’ve consistently been the best team in football over the last handful of years. They’re very well coached. I have the utmost respect for (Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers’) ability to coach and teach a high volume of scheme to his players. He has the ability to blow up plays in your backfield. Rarely are they out of position and it’s hard to predict what they’re going to play schematically. Offensively, special teams, like I said, this has been the best team in football over the last handful of years.”
Kaepernick kept his focus much tighter.
“They’re the next team we play. That’s the way the situation is,” he said.
Playoff games have a way of sharpening everybody’s focus. Additional coverage - Jan. 8