SAN FRANCISCO — Colin Kaepernick and Michael Crabtree brought another NFC West title to San Francisco on Sunday. Kaepernick threw it, Crabtree caught it and, suddenly, a battered 49er team received a jolt of energy.
Funny how it all changes in one three-hour time capsule. Before, the 49ers limped home last week in the throes of a haunting loss at Seattle. Their confidence was sapped and some of their best players had taken their last snap.
A momentous afternoon later, they're champions in a 27-13 win over Arizona, a victory that kept giving. Fans huddled around TVs in the hallways of Candlestick Park and cheered about 30 minutes later when Minnesota beat Green Bay and upgraded the 49ers to the No. 2 seed and a much-needed bye next week in the playoffs.
As for Kaepernick, our conspicuous young quarterback from Turlock, he's feeling better this week, thank you. His performance level upticked as the day wore on, mirroring his team's, and we witnessed some of that old swagger during the second half.
He connected 13 times with Crabtree for 172 yards and two touchdowns, a large chunk of Kaepernick's career-high 276 passing yards. The two appeared to be thinking on the same wavelength. Together, they tore Arizona's game plan into about 1,000 pieces strewn in the Bay Area breeze.
Their performance lifted an entire team, one that looked like it was reeling under the pressure during a shaky first quarter. All that ended when the twosome covered 80 yards in just two tosses for the 49ers' go-ahead touchdown.
In those back-to-back gems, Kaepernick demonstrated once again why he was promoted. His rolling-to-his-left 49-yard strike to Crabtree for the TD was the sort of thing Alex Smith the man Kaepernick replaced can't even try much less complete.
And the second touchdown, a Kaepernick fastball into the flat, whistled past startled Cardinal corner Patrick Peterson. Crabtree caught it in the end zone while Peterson's hand was still outstretched, as though he still expected to knock it down.
Later, Kaepernick and Crabtree stood on the same post-game podium, still joined at the hip.
"He (Crabtree) is a playmaker," Kaepernick said. "That's what he does."
And from Crabtree: "My dude made it happen."
If only it were that easy.
If you're keeping track and we think you are Kaepernick is 5-2 since he became the starter. But there is one thing different today: He's the quarterback of a division champion. He started the regular season with a sidelines cap on his head and finished it punching his fist toward an adoring crowd.
Go figure the vagaries of the NFL.
Kaepernick watched the thrilling conclusion to Vikings-Packers with some degree of anxiety. The moment carried him back to that small hell he occupied last week in Seattle.
"It was a little nerve-racking," he said in reference to the game in Minneapolis. "We would have been a lot better off if we had taken care of business last week."
Kaepernick took a beating in the Bay Area media this week for his clipped answers after the Seattle loss. To fans, this shouldn't matter at all. Far more relevant than a press conference is what he does with the ball in his hands.
The issue will resonate, however, because of two things: 1. He's the quarterback of the 49ers, the successor to guys named Montana and Young, and 2. He must react like a leader, a pro.
Kaepernick will learn, especially if coach Jim Harbaugh the king of the single-syllable answers loosens the reins on his prodigy.
Remember, Kaepernick has survived an NFL gauntlet. Already, he's won two out of three in angry places such as New Orleans, New England and Seattle. Nothing in the playoffs will equal those decibel levels.
Here is the essential point: Kaepernick, seemingly in the epicenter of a surrounding temblor, shouldn't feel the Category 4 pressure. No, that belongs to Harbaugh, the man who defied NFL history.
No first-year quarterback ever has led his team to the Super Bowl. Kaepernick would be the first. Harbaugh embraces such audacity. It runs in the family DNA (the Baltimore Ravens, coached by Harbaugh's brother John, fired offensive coordinator Cam Cameron though his team was ranked a respectable ninth in offense).
Harbaugh has liked Kaepernick from hello. He was the only one in the 49er front office pushing to draft him two years ago. More than anyone else, Harbaugh understands that the 49ers must take a different route through the upcoming playoffs.
They can't rely on a red-hot kicker in David Akers last year's template because his icy-cold foot is threatening to make him an ex-Niner. No, the 49ers will require heaping doses of playmaking from his quarterback this time.
Harbaugh has made his call. He'll live with the consequences. They're attached to Kaepernick's arm and Crabtree's hands.
Bee staff writer Ron Agostini can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2302.