San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) throws the ball against the Atlanta Falcons during the third quarter in the NFC Championship game at the Georgia Dome. (Photo: Daniel Shirey, USA TODAY Sports)
ATLANTA - Good luck classifying Colin Kaepernick.
A week after the San Francisco 49ers quarterback ran for 181 yards, more than any other quarterback in playoff history, the 49ers decided to let the other players run and let Kaepernick throw.
Kaepernick led the 49ers to a 28-24 come-from-behind win against Atlanta in Sunday's NFC Championship game, and he did it not with his legs, but with his strong right arm and calm demeanor that hardly showed he was making only his ninth career start.
Those designed quarterback runs? The read-option quarterback keepers? They were virtually non-existent in San Francisco's 28-24 win against Atlanta. Kaepernick ran just twice Sunday, and his only called running went for a two-yard loss. He picked up 23 yards on a scramble in the third quarter after the rest of a play had broken down.
So can we finally quit with the idea that Kaepernick is a run-first quarterback?
"I don't want to be categorized. I want to be my own man," Kaepernick said.
As Kaepernick stood at the interview podium inside the Georgia Dome, still in his full uniform but with a super-sized NFC championship T-shirt pulled over his shoulder pads, it's hard to remember that just 2.5 months ago, he was just Alex Smith's backup; the guy who would run a few wildcat snaps per game.
Kaepernick got his chance to start when Smith suffered a concussion in early November, but kept the job when it quickly became clear he wasn't giving it back. It was a bold and controversial move by Harbaugh, to bail on the quarterback who nearly led his team to last year's Super Bowl, for an unproven second-year player.
"I'm just thankful he made that decision," Kaepernick said.
On Sunday in Atlanta, just the threat that at anytime Kaepernick might take off running seemed to have the Falcons spooked. With the Falcons determined not to let Kaepernick get free around the edges, the 49ers rediscovered the rest of their running game, both through the option (see LaMichael James' 15-yard second-quarter touchdown) and the good old-fashioned inside handoff (Frank Gore's nine-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter).
Gore, who had 90 yards and a pair of touchdowns, interrupted Kaepernick's postgame media conference and began gushing about the quarterback, including Kaepernick's savvy to freeze the Falcons' defense by delaying the handoff to Gore on what wound up being Gore's game-winning touchdown run.
"You know Kap, man. He knows he can make plays," Gore said. "I felt he held it a little bit. But I got it and I said, 'I'm gonna score.'"
Gore, as well as other teammates, said Kaepernick wasn't rattled during a dismal first quarter in which the 49ers didn't manage a first down in two series. Kaepernick had only one passing yard and took a sack while his quarterback counterpart, Matt Ryan, led the Falcons to a 17-0 lead.
"If it wasn't for him, it would have been a tough game today, and I'm happy he stayed poised," Gore said.
Lindsay H Jones, USA TODAY Sports