NFL Playoffs: Comfortable Kaepernick hopes to lead Niners back to Super Bowl

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick says he is more comfortable leading his team into the playoffs this season than he was last year, when he guided the 49ers to the Super Bowl.

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Colin Kaepernick cited his experience for why he's "more comfortable" entering the playoffs than a year ago.

His teammates are more at ease with Kaepernick, too, especially after seeing him finish strongly in what had been an up-and-down regular season.

"I know people expected coming into this season he was going to coast through this football league," linebacker Patrick Willis said Thursday. "But it's the National Football League, so sometimes you're going to have those tough droughts, those tough games.

"I feel like it's a true character of who he is as a football player, the ability to bounce back, stay positive and continually lead the offense. I look for him to do great things in these playoffs."

That might not sound great to the Green Bay Packers, who were tormented by Kaepernick in the 49ers' divisional-playoff win last year and will face him again in Sunday's wild-card game at Lambeau Field.


Kaepernick's greatest games arguably have come against the Packers, a team the Wisconsin native rooted for as a kid, with his "biggest memory" being Terrell Owens' winning touchdown catch in the 49ers' wild-card win over the Packers in January 1998.

The 49ers and Packers renewed that playoff rivalry a year ago, when Kaepernick made quite the playoff debut. He ran for 181 yards (an NFL record by a quarterback) and two touchdowns while also passing for 263 yards and two touchdowns in a 45-31 home win.

Recalling that performance, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said Thursday he "always had the sense the big stage did not make (Kaepernick) flinch, and those things were confirmed."

Kaepernick's first full season as the 49ers starter hasn't been a smooth ride, made bumpier by the absence of his favorite target, Michael Crabtree, through the first 11 games.

But Kaepernick's statistics have soared over the past six wins. His average passer rating is 106.5 in that win streak, with 10 touchdowns and one interception. A year ago, he also entered the playoffs strongly, totaling a 100-plus passer rating in three of his final four regular-season games.

"I'm just more comfortable with the situation, with the scenario," Kaepernick said. "Last year, everything just happened fast. This year, I have the experience of being in the playoffs, I have the experience of being in the offense."

His teammates agree.

"As time goes on, you start to see the progression he's made over these games, and we're more confident now with him than we were a year ago," defensive tackle Ray McDonald said.


Kaepernick opened this season by passing for a career-high 412 yards and three touchdowns while running for only 22 yards in a 34-28 win over the Packers. He ran for 524 yards and four touchdowns this regular season, mostly from scrambles rather than the read-option snaps that tormented Green Bay in the playoffs.

"That's something that's part of their arsenal," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said of the read-option in a conference call Wednesday. "How much they use it and don't is part of their choice. We have to prepare for everything we'll see, and I'm sure they'll have new wrinkles for us."

One new wrinkle: rookie Quinton Patton, who played only four snaps in the opener but made a big catch Sunday to set up the 49ers' win at Arizona.

"We can manipulate defenses in a lot of different ways," Kaepernick said.

McCarthy's updated scouting report on Kaepernick: "He's a very good player. Obviously very versatile. Excellent, big athlete. So we're preparing for their whole offense and definitely the quarterback is always a focus."

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