SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Colin Kaepernick overcame a shaky start in his playoff debut by throwing two touchdown passes to Michael Crabtree and scrambling for another score to help the San Francisco 49ers carry a 24-21 lead over the Green Bay Packers into halftime of the NFC divisional playoff game Saturday night.
Showing off his strong arm and fleet footwork, Kaepernick threw for 148 yards and ran for 107 yards. The second-year pro out of Nevada shook off an interception that Sam Shields ran back 52 yards for a touchdown on San Francisco’s first possession.
Kaepernick later tossed TD passes of 20 and 12 yards to Crabtree and scampered untouched for a 20-yard score. He led another drive that David Akers finished with a 36-yard field goal as the half expired to put the 49ers ahead.
Michael Vick’s 119 yards rushing against St. Louis in 2005 are the most by a quarterback in a playoff game.
Aaron Rodgers rallied the Packers after tossing his own interception. The former Berkeley star and Northern California native threw a 20-yard scoring strike to James Jones, and DaJuan Harris ran for an 18-yard touchdown.
The amped-up crowd at Candlestick Park endured a flurry of emotions at the start.
With San Francisco looking to return to the NFC title game for the second straight season, Kaepernick’s costly error quieted the 49ers faithful. Shields stepped in front of Kaepernick’s pass, shook the quarterback to the ground and scampered down the sideline to give the Packers a quick 7-0 lead.
Kaepernick unclipped his jaw strap and dropped his head to the sideline while Shields waved his hands at the crowd. Rodgers pumped his first on the Packers sideline.
Kaepernick converted two third downs to bring the 49ers back on their next drive. He bought time and scurried out of the pocket to find running back Frank Gore for a 45-yard gain, then darted 20 yards up the middle on third-and-8 for the tying score.
When Rodgers and the Packers offense finally took the field, they didn’t do much the first time out. San Francisco stopped Rodgers, who had a contingent of friends and family make the 4-hour trek from his hometown of Chico, on a three-and-out that whipped the crowd back into a frenzy on a crisp night along the bay.
Rodgers found his groove and floated a 44-yard pass that Jones leaped to snatch over two defenders along the sideline. Then Harris broke through the middle to put the Packers up 14-7 on the next play.
Green Bay made its share of mistakes, too.
Jeremy Ross muffed a punt and Chris Culliver recovered at the Packers’ 9. Three plays later, Kaepernick found Crabtree running free over the middle for a tying 12-yard touchdown pass.
San Francisco’s stout defense often took a linebacker off the field to drop an extra defensive back in coverage against Rodgers, just as the 49ers did in a 30-22 win in the season opener at Lambeau Field. The strategy flustered Rodgers enough that he overthrew Jordy Nelson on a deep pass that Tarrell Brown intercepted. Rodgers had gone 184 passes without an interception.
Kaepernick broke another 15-yard run on third down, but officials whistled him for a 15-yard taunting penalty for tossing the ball in the direction of Green Bay defenders. He brushed that off to hit Crabtree on a 20-yard touchdown pass to give the 49ers a 21-14 lead midway through the second quarter.
On its next drive, Green Bay took advantage of a 15-yard personal foul penalty Dashon Goldson was given for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Harris. Rodgers then threaded a tying 20-yard TD to Jones between three defenders in the end zone with 2:33 remaining. Kaepernick responded and led the 49ers downfield to give the struggling Akers, who had to beat out Billy Cundiff to keep his job, a chance.
The stakes were high for both quarterbacks in this one.
Rodgers dropped to No. 24 in the 2005 draft after San Francisco selected Alex Smith No. 1. After leading the Packers to a Super Bowl title two years ago, Rodgers was playing in a non-preseason game at Candlestick Park for the first time in his career, ready to eliminate the team he rooted for as a kid.
In an odd twist, Kaepernick was born in Milwaukee and adopted before moving to California at age 4. He began as a toddler Cheesehead, then said he changed allegiances “when I got drafted.”
Online: http://pro32.ap.org/poll and http://twitter.com/AP_NFL