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Winners-Losers: Jim Harbaugh made the right call with his quarterbacks

By Will Brinson | NFL Writer

Oh, the hand-wringing that was wrought during the 2012 regular season over Jim Harbaugh's decision to replace Alex Smith with Colin Kaepernick. So much wringing ... and all for nothing.

Kaepernick's the better quarterback, and he proved as much on Saturday night, eviscerating the Packers' defense for 263 passing yards, two passing touchdowns, 181 rushing yards (a record for a quarterback in the playoffs) and two rushing touchdowns.

The Nevada product outplayed Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (!) in the divisional game and, win or lose, justified Harbaugh's decision a million times over. Not that it mattered: Kaep and the 49ers cruised to a victory, and Kaepernick absolutely broke out.

"He was running all over the field. He's big, strong, athletic. Runs the ball extremely well, throws the ball extremely well," Rodgers said after the game. "We didn't really have a whole lot of answers for him."

Winners

Colin Kaepernick: What a freaking way to kick off your playoff career. Kaep threw an early pick-six, and it looked like the Packers' pressure and the postseason expectations might be too much for him. Yeah, not so much: he routinely shredded the Green Bay defense the rest of the way home, laughing off blitzes and destroying the Packers on every single third down. Green Bay had no answer for the read option from Kaepernick, and he also flashed one of the strongest arms in the NFL over and over on some critical throws. Monster game.

Jim Harbaugh: Two straight years in the NFC Championship Game for Harbaugh isn't a bad way to kick off a coaching career. More importantly, he has completely justified his decision to move on from Smith to Kaepernick. A loss against Green Bay, and people might question whether he made the right move. That would've been silly; Kaepernick's clearly the better option for San Fran. But a loss would've given critics the ammo. Instead, Harbaugh's going to steer pretty clear of any complaints for the time being.

Michael Crabtree: This dude is gonna get taken higher in your fantasy draft than you would ever imagined this time last year, and don't be scared if you're the one taking him. Crabtree matured on the field in 2012 and posted career numbers. Now he's looking like Kaepernick's go-to target for the Niners. Over his last six games, Crab has six touchdown catches and is averaging 109.5 yards.

DuJuan Harris: Not a dominant game from Harris by any stretch -- he only had 53 yards rushing and two catches for 11 yards. But he did have a touchdown run, and it's possible that he has established himself as the starting running back for the Packers heading into 2013.

Mason Crosby/David Akers: Two of the most maligned kickers this season, Akers and Crosby seemed like a good bet to face a game-winning field goal between them. Instead, neither missed the uprights, combining to go 2-for-2 on field goals and 10-for-10 (!) on extra points. Save the kicking controversy for another day.

Losers

Dom Capers: The 2010 Packers' defense helped carry them to the Super Bowl, but it has been bad since then, particularly in elimination games. That's now 37 and 45 points that the Packers have given up in their last two postseason losses, to the Giants and 49ers, respectively. That's too many no matter what your quarterback can do. Most frustrating for Packers fans is the fact that Capers repeatedly sent guys after Colin Kaepernick on third down on Saturday despite the fact that the second-year quarterback routinely took the pressure and flipped it on the Packers for big gains either through the air or on the ground.

Alex Smith: I'm sure Smith feels, um, good for Kaepernick and the 49ers' success. But it still would suck to be him right now: the Niners are rolling offensively, look like a team that can win the Super Bowl and Smith has basically already punched his ticket out of town. It's not even his fault; he just happened to suffer a concussion during the season, Kaepernick stepped in and the rest was history. The reality of the situation is Smith's limited in the sense that there are many things that he cannot do as a quarterback. Exacerbating things? Kaep can do everything that he can't.

Erik Walden: Walden was the biggest problem for the Packers in containing the 49ers' read option. The linebacker consistently looked lost in assignment defense. As a result, Kaepernick was consistently sprinting through open stretchs of the football field.

Aaron Rodgers: Rodgers is already 29. He has a Super Bowl title and an MVP award, and he is one of the three best quarterbacks on the planet. But watching him in his postgame press conference, you get the sense that this guy, who apparently carries a grudge worse than any human being on the planet, might see a little bit of time slipping away, right? He spent the early portion of his career sitting behind Brett Favre. Then he was in the "can't win a playoff game" category. Then he won a title. And now the Packers have seemingly wasted two straight years of quality play behind shoddy defenses. It has to be frustrating for someone not far removed from turning 30.

Aldon Smith: Smith's now sackless in his last 14-some quarters, and that must be a concern for the 49ers, right? Ever since Justin Smith went down with a triceps injury, Aldon hasn't been as effective. That was true on Saturday, as well. San Francisco dominated Green Bay in the divisional round in terms of the scoreboard, but it was more a result of its offense overpowering the Packers' weakened defense than it was its D shutting down Rodgers and company. That must be a concern moving forward against better defenses.

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