On the first drive of his first NFL playoff start Saturday night at Candlestick Park, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick threw an interception that Green Bay's Sam Shields returned 52 for a touchdown.
Kaepernick spent the rest of the night setting the NFL single-game rushing record for a quarterback and leading the 49ers to a resounding 45-31 victory over the Packers in an NFC Divisional playoff game.
The 49ers advanced to the NFC Championship Game for the second straight season and will play the winner of Sunday's game at Atlanta between the Falcons and Seattle Seahawks.
Kaepernick, making his first NFL playoff start, rushed for 181 yards, the most ever in a game by an NFL quarterback. He broke Michael Vick's single-game rushing record of 173 yards, set in 2002 against the Minnesota Vikings. Before Kaepernick ran wild against the Packers, no NFL quarterback had run for more yards in a playoff game than Vick, who rushed for 119 yards on eight carries against St. Louis for Atlanta on Jan. 15, 2005.
Kaepernick also smashed running back Roger Craig's postseason team single-game rushing mark of 135 set on Jan. 1, 1989, in a divisional game against Minnesota.
"It's a great accolade," Kaepernick said of his NFL record. "I think it means a lot more to the team. They opened up a lot of lanes for me."
The 49ers blockers also opened up plenty of holes for running back Frank Gore, who ran for 119 yards and a touchdown. With Kaepernick and Gore doing most of the work, the 49ers rushed for a team playoff record 325 yards, snapping the mark of 211 set against Miami in the Super Bowl on Jan. 20, 1985.
Kaepernick rushed for two touchdowns and passed for 263 yards and two touchdowns, both to wide receiver Michael Crabtree, who caught nine passes for 119 yards.
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers completed 26 of 59 passes for 257 yards and two touchdowns. Greg Jennings caught six passes for 54 yards and a touchdown.
Green Bay's defense, however, had no answer for Kaepernick, especially when he took off and scrambled or kept the ball on read-option plays.
"We just didn't play it the way it's supposed to be played," Packers safety Charles Woodson said. "We let him get out of there on a few occasions. If you don't stop it, it hurts you bad."
After throwing his pick-six early in the game, Kaepernick didn't flinch. He quickly led the 49ers to a touchdown, scrambling 20 yards for the score.
"He played amazing tonight," 49ers tackle Joe Staley said. "He shook off that early interception. When he was on the sidelines after that early interception, you could just see that he was ready to go. That didn't get him down. The whole offense we had a lot of confidence going into this game. We had a great game plan and I'm happy with the way we executed."
The Packers turned the no-huddle offense early in the second half and drove 76 yards in nine plays for Mason Crosby's 31-yard field, making it 24-24 with 8:25 left in the third.
After that, the 49ers scored two quick touchdowns to build a 38-24 lead and take control.
San Francisco needed just 1:18 to drive 80 yards and to take a 31-24 lead on Kaepernick's 56-yard touchdown run around right end on a read-option play. Kaepernick faked a handoff to rookie running back LaMichael James, pulled the ball back and, as the Packers converged on James, found a huge lane around right end. He raced untouched into the end zone.
"The end came down, our receivers blocked the corner and the safety, and there was nobody left," Kaepernick said.
After the 49ers defense forced a punt, Kaepernick and the 49ers went to work again, driving 93 yards in eight plays for Frank Gore's 2-yard touchdown blast with 14:57 left to play.
Kaepernick's 44-yard pass to tight end Vernon Davis gave the 49ers a first down at the Packers' 15. James then darted up the middle for 13 yards to the 2. Gore did the rest.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy said they tried multiple schemes to stop Kaepernick, including using a spy at times.
"You might not have noticed, but we did," McCarthy said. "We did not get that job done, obviously.
The 49ers upped their lead to 45-24 on fullback Anthony Dixon's 2-yard touchdown run with 3:34 left to play.
Rodgers tacked on a 3-yard touchdown pass to Jennings, cutting the lead to 45-31 with 57 seconds left.
The 49ers built a 24-21 halftime lead on the strength of Kaepernick's passing and running. He rushed for 107 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries by halftime. He also passed for 148 yards and two touchdowns, both to Crabtree, along with the interception for a touchdown to Shields on the game's first drive.
Rodgers, meanwhile, went 5 of 10 for 96 yards with a touchdown and an interception in the first half. James Jones caught a pair of passes for 64 yards and a touchdown, and running back DuJuan Harris carried nine times for 47 yards and a score in the opening half.
Green Bay grabbed a quick 7-0 lead on Shields pick-six with 12:48 still left in the first quarter.
On second-and-6, Kaepernick initially looked toward the right sideline, but when Crabtree slipped and fell, he scrambled to his left. Under pressure, Kaepernick threw off his back foot, trying to hit Davis, but Shields knifed in front for the interception then headed down the sideline.
After Kaepernick dove and missed at the 20, Shields cruised into the end zone.
The 49ers answered on their next drive, marching 80 yards in seven plays for a touchdown, Kaepernick scoring on a 20-yard scramble. Kaepernick made a huge play earlier in the drive, facing third-and-10 from the 49ers 33. He scrambled left then lofted a short pass over Woodson to Gore, who ran all the way to Green Bay 22 for a 45-yard gain.
Packers linebacker Clay Matthews sacked Kaepernick for a 7-yard loss on first down, but Gore gained 9 yards on a second-down draw. On third-and 8 from the 20, Kaepernick dropped back to pass but saw a huge alley open up off the left edge and took off running. He didn't stop until he was in the end zone, tying the game 7-7 with 9:01 left in the first quarter.
"When you see a quarterback run the way he runs, that's unbelievable," 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis said. "It amazes me. It wows me. It's like, 'Wow! Did he just do that?'"
The Packers moved back ahead 14-7 with 29 seconds left in the first quarter on Harris' 18-yard burst up the middle for a touchdown. One play earlier, Rodgers hit Jones on a 44-yard strike down the right sideline. Jones got behind 49ers nickel cornerback Chris Culliver and made a leaping catch before safety Dashon Goldson arrived.
The 49ers capitalized on a Packers turnover to pull even. Green Bay's Jeremy Ross muffed an Andy Lee punt, and 49ers cornerback C.J. Spillman recovered at the 9.
"There's no excuses for it," McCarthy said of Ross' turnover. "It was not a difficult punt. I tuned into seven points for the 49ers."
On third-and-goal from the 12, Crabtree ran a crossing route over the middle, and no Packer covered him. Kaepernick hit Crabtree in stride, and he scored with 10:59 left in the half, making it 14-14.
The 49ers quickly got the ball back as cornerback Tarrell Brown intercepted a Rodgers pass and returned it 39 yards to the Packers' 48. Eight plays later, Kaepernick threw a 20-yard laser for a touchdown to Crabtree, who beat Shields on a post pattern. Crabtree's TD put the 49ers ahead 21-14 with 3:53 left in the half.
"It was a shootout," Crabtree said. "We knew those guys could put up points."
Rodgers fired a 20-yard touchdown strike over the middle to Jones with 2:33 left in the half, tying the score again. Kicker David Akers made a 36-yard field goal on the final play of the half, putting San Francisco ahead 24-21.
NOTES: Packers wide receiver Donald Driver, in his 14th NFL season out of Alcorn State, was active for Saturday's game. He was inactive for the regular-season finale and for last week's playoff victory over Minnesota. ... Niners kicker Billy Cundiff was inactive, leaving all of the kicking duties to the struggling Akers. San Francisco signed Cundiff on Tuesday as a free agent to compete with Akers. ... The 49ers had 579 total yard of offense to 352 for Green Bay. They controlled the ball for 38:01 to 21:59 for the Packers.