SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Bring on Carolina once more, and another cross-country playoff flight.
The San Francisco 49ers are all for a rematch with the Panthers, even if it means hitting the road again this week to keep their latest postseason run going.
“Onward now,” coach Jim Harbaugh said.
The Panthers shut down San Francisco and quarterback Colin Kaepernick 10-9 at Candlestick Park on Nov. 10, snapping the Niners’ five-game winning streak. The 49ers lost the following week at New Orleans for their second two-game skid of the season, but have been on an impressive unbeaten roll in seven games since then after a 23-20 wild-card win Sunday at bitterly cold Green Bay.
Now, the 49ers (13-4) get a second chance at Cam Newton and Co. in the NFC divisional playoffs Sunday. Now, they have a healthy, playmaking Michael Crabtree in the receiving corps too.
And true to his normal, succinct nature, Kaepernick offered this on Carolina: “We owe ‘em.”
Kaepernick went 11 for 22 for 91 yards with an interception and was sacked six times for a 42.0 passer rating in a rare poor performance.
Newton went 16 of 32 for 169 yards, an interception and four sacks for a 52.7 rating.
The Niners needed every ounce out of Kaepernick to get past Green Bay for the fourth consecutive time and second playoff victory in as many Januarys.
“We’ve got a good bad-weather quarterback. I think we’ve established that,” Harbaugh said Monday. “Being able to throw a ball that pierces through the elements, the wind. He’s shown that in the rain, bad weather, footing, or elements of precipitation. He can pierce a defense with velocity and tightness of the spiral.”
Not to mention with his long legs.
Kaepernick’s 11-yard run on third-and-8 set up Phil Dawson’s winning 33-yard field goal as time expired at Lambeau Field.
No sleeves were necessary for the tattooed quarterback either.
By the end of a fun flight home, he had turned his focus to the Panthers.
In the last game against Carolina, the 49ers lost a pair of key players on either side of the ball to concussions – tight end Vernon Davis and rookie safety Eric Reid.
And Kaepernick has come a long way since that loss two months ago.
“He’s a tough guy, and a quarterback like that, you’ll do whatever for him,” running back Frank Gore said.
Having Crabtree back in the mix sure helps.
“More dangerous,” Harbaugh said. “Michael Crabtree was not there for that game and Vernon was out of the game early.”