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National Columnist

Quiet Kaepernick lets play do talking in historic performance

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SAN FRANCISCO -- Noise was bouncing around the 49ers' cramped locker room at Candlestick Park in happy little explosions. One player was clapping. Another was screaming. Another was walking out of the shower, wearing nothing but a grin, and loudly quoting Pitbull: "Don't stop the parrrrrr-ty!"

Colin Kaepernick was silent.

Kaepernick had just finished off one of the greatest games by a quarterback in NFL playoff history, rushing for a quarterback record -- postseason or regular season -- 181 yards and two touchdowns. He had thrown for 263 yards and two more touchdowns, becoming just the third quarterback in playoff history with at least two scores by ground and two scores by air. Here he was in this noisy celebration, teammates all around him clamoring and hollering after the 49ers' 45-31 victory over Green Bay, and Kaepernick was quietly getting dressed.

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Former 49ers great John Brodie, 77, whose No. 12 jersey hangs in this same locker room, stopped by Kaepernick's locker to offer congratulations. Kaepernick was glowing as he accepted it, then went back to silently packing up his things. He folded up his filthy No. 7 jersey, but instead of throwing it into one of the several laundry baskets around the room, he tucked it into his red leather backpack to carry it home. Maybe he washes his own jersey. Maybe he wears a new one every game. Maybe this one was so special, being worn as he racked up historic numbers in his first playoff start, that he was taking no chances with it. Whatever the case, this jersey was going home with him.

A few minutes later Kaepernick was in the interview room, where he was silent a bit longer. Linebacker Patrick Willis was at the podium being asked questions, most of them about Kaepernick, and Willis was saying nice things. He said, "You never really see [Kaepernick] open up like that in practice. You see them do the offense they do and whatnot, but to see him do it in a game, it amazes me. I'm just saying, 'Wow, did he just do that?'"

Kaepernick stood there. Silent. No expression.

Then it was receiver Michael Crabtree's turn at the podium, being asked questions, most of them about Kaepernick. And Crabtree was saying nice things. He said, "The guy's playing football, man. He's making it happen."

Kaepernick stood there. Silent. No expression.

And then Crabtree was asked about the first enormous play of the game, a terrible interception Kaepernick threw off his back foot to Packers cornerback Sam Shields, who returned it 52 yards for a 7-0 Green Bay lead. Crabtree was asked specifically about Kaepernick's reaction to such a mistake.

"There was no frustration at all," Crabtree said.

Kaepernick stood there, still silent, but no longer expressionless. Now he was smiling -- no, beaming. Hearing how well he played, well, that seemed to embarrass him. Hearing how well he reacted to adversity? He liked that. He also liked what Crabtree said next, as he spotted Kaepernick waiting in the wings.

"Come on up, Kap," Crabtree said. "Let 'em know something."

Kaepernick shook Crabtree's hand and teasingly repeated those words: "Let 'em know something?"

He wasn't going to let us know much. Kaepernick doesn't seem to be that kind of guy. He's not Crabtree, in other words. Crabtree stood at the podium in sunglasses -- it was night, and he was indoors -- and he would've stayed as long as anyone wanted. Not Kaepernick, who stood there with a sheepish look on his face, his answers friendly but short, like the time he was asked which of his 17 completions was his favorite.

"I don't know," he said. "I couldn't say."

Kaepernick was asked how he should be categorized -- as a runner who can pass or as a passer who can run -- and he gave the shortest, best answer possible:

"I don't want to be categorized."

That's our job, not his. His job? Running the 49ers' offense, and he did it Saturday better than he ever has. He did it so well, this game didn't look fair. The Green Bay defense simply had no chance against this offense devised by 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, who made that shocking midseason decision -- benching starter Alex Smith even after he was cleared to return from his concussion -- for this exact kind of performance.

Smith couldn't have done what Kaepernick did Saturday to the Packers. Other than Cam Newton on his best day, there's not another quarterback in the league who could have done what Kaepernick did Saturday to the Packers, putting the ball in Frank Gore's belly and leaving it there if the middle was open -- or taking it out and running around the edge if it wasn't. That's what he did on his 56-yard touchdown that gave the 49ers a 31-24 lead, spotting the defensive end creeping inside to stop Gore and pulling the ball away from his tailback, running into the empty spot outside the defense and then outrunning everyone to the end zone.

"To see a [defender] come across the field at an angle and [Kaepernick] eats up that angle -- that's fast," Willis said. "That guy's moving."

Kaepernick is too fast, Gore is too tough, and the 49ers offensive line is too physical. San Francisco ran for 323 yards and amassed 579 total, and it looked -- definitely for this game, and maybe for the rest of this postseason -- like the best team in the NFL.

Big words? Sure. But you saw it. The offense was incredible, the kicking game was perfect, and the defense, well, more than half the defense made the All-Pro teams that were released earlier in the day. All four linebackers earned a spot -- Willis, Aldon Smith and NaVorro Bowman on the first team, Ahmad Brooks on the second team -- as did safety Dashon Goldson (first team) and defensive lineman Justin Smith (second). And that defense held Aaron Rodgers to a sub-par, for him, 91.5 passer rating. The Packers had just 245 yards until the final three minutes of garbage time.

Defense is the strength of the 49ers, but heaven help anyone who tries to stop the San Francisco offense as it was run Saturday by Kaepernick.


Gregg Doyel is a columnist for CBSSports.com. He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.
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