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Kaepernick gives 49ers new look in NFC title game

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Kaepernick gives 49ers new look in NFC title game

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) Colin Kaepernick stood in a cramped corner of the 49ers' locker room smiling and chatting with Alex Smith late Saturday night when a stranger interrupted the two quarterbacks.

``Wow, great game,'' said former franchise quarterback John Brodie, shaking Kaepernick's hand and patting him on the back. ``Nice to meet you.''

After a record-setting playoff debut that sent San Francisco to the NFC championship game for the second straight season, Kaepernick needs no more introductions.

The second-year pro out of Nevada squashed all the questions and uncertainty about Jim Harbaugh's late-season decision to supplant Smith as the starter in a 45-31 rout of Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. Kaepernick is quickly becoming a household name, and his touchdown celebration - flexing his right arm and kissing his biceps - is trending all over social media.

Tebowing? No, call it Kaepernicking.

Riding his strong legs and right arm, the 49ers (12-4-1) are back where they were a year ago and seemingly more dangerous and daring than when the eventual champion New York Giants eliminated them last January. San Francisco will play at Atlanta (14-3) on Jan. 20 after the Falcons outlasted Seattle 30-28 on Sunday.

``All the credit goes to him,'' said rookie running back LaMichael James, another part of the dynamic read-option run game. ``When he's making that read, he knows when to give it. He knows when to pull it. He's taking off. He's faster than most people on the defense. He's doing everything for us right now.''

In the air and on the ground, Kaepernick confirmed Harbaugh's much-debated move more than anybody could have imagined in 60 minutes of playoff football.

The tattoo-tattered quarterback from nearby Turlock overcame an early interception returned for a touchdown and ran for scores of 20 and 56 yards, topping the rushing mark of 119 yards set by Michael Vick in 2005 when Atlanta beat St. Louis. He also threw TD passes of 12 and 20 yards to go-to target Michael Crabtree, who finished with nine receptions and 119 yards in the NFC divisional matchup.

San Francisco racked up 579 total yards with 323 on the ground, scoring its third-most points in the franchise's storied playoff history. Kaepernick also joined Jay Cutler in 2011 and Otto Graham in both 1954 and 1955 as the only players with two rushing and two passing touchdowns in a playoff game.

``It's been amazing and I couldn't ask for anything more,'' Kaepernick said.

``Guys playing football. He's making it happen,'' Crabtree said. ``With his feet, with his arm, he's just out there making plays. He's a playmaker.''

That's something San Francisco sorely lacked last January.

Throw out the grind-it-out game that propelled the 49ers as far as a 20-17 overtime loss to the Giants a year ago. With a strong arm and quick-burst ability out of the pocket, Kaepernick has given the offense an added dimension - and maybe some moxie, too - that was missing in the championship game.

Crabtree's one catch for 3 yards accounted for all of the production from San Francisco wide receivers against New York. While Kyle Williams bore most of the blame for his two fumbled punts, Smith and the offense struggled to move the ball and put the pressure on the defense most of the night.

Maybe no more.

All-Pro linebacker Patrick Willis credited Kaepernick and Co. for bailing out the defense against the Packers, especially in the first half, when Kaepernick had 11 carries for 107 yards rushing to give the 49ers a 24-21 lead. The unproven quarterback simply ran away from Green Bay in the second half, and the reigning MVP couldn't keep up.

``I joke with him all the time, I say, `You've got to be one of the biggest and strongest quarterbacks I've seen,''' Willis said. ``He's fast. It's just one thing when you see a guy get behind a guy and they try to run and the guy already has a step on him. But to see a guy come across the field at an angle and he eats up the angle, to us, that's fast. That guy's moving.''

Ramping up plays out of the Pistol formation he ran at Nevada, Kaepernick's size and speed overwhelmed the Packers in ways he hadn't in his first seven starts since taking over.

Offensive coordinator Greg Roman admitted he 49ers had been saving some of those schemes -and Kaepernick's legs - for the playoff push. Kaepernick, the first college football player with three seasons of 2,000 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing, surely surprised the opposition with all those read-option runs, including a 56-yarder TD keeper in the third quarter - the longest by a quarterback in franchise history - that eclipsed Vick's mark.

``I think they thought I had it,'' James said. ``That's what I told him. I know once he gets past the second level, nobody's going to touch him.''

Kaepernick's performance was hardly perfect.

He threw an interception returned for a touchdown by Sam Shields on the fourth play of the game, had a taunting penalty for throwing the ball down in the face of Packers defenders after getting tackled in the second quarter and often had problems getting the offense out of the huddle quickly.

As San Francisco also knows maybe more than any other playoff team, sustaining success is not easy.

Five previous times this season the 49ers have won two in a row, and all five times they have failed to win the next game, including a 24-24 tie against St. Louis in Week 10. If they want a trip to New Orleans, they'll have to find a way to put together something they haven't all season: a winning streak.

``It feels like we're in the same place,'' Crabtree said. ``Winning that game last year, we're in the same place. It's just what we do the next game. It's all about the next game.''

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Wizards vs. Hornets: TV, live stream and radio info, things to watch

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USA TODAY Sports

Wizards vs. Hornets: TV, live stream and radio info, things to watch

Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Kelly Oubre, Jr. and the Washington Wizards battle Kemba Walker, Dwight Howard, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and the Charlotte Hornets on Friday night.

Here is all you need to know: TV, live stream and radio info, tip-off time, plus three things to watch:

WASHINGTON WIZARDS VS. CHARLOTTE HORNETS

Where: Capital One Arena
Tip-off: 7 p.m.
TV: NBC Sports Washington (coverage begins at 6 p.m.)
Live stream: NBCSportsWashington.com
Radio: 1500 AM

On a roll

The Wizards have some serious momentum going right now. With an impressive win over the Cavs on Thursday, they have now won three straight games and eight of 10 since John Wall went down with a left knee injury. They had a week off due to the All-Star break, but didn't show any rust at all in their first game back.

The Wizards are now 34-24, 10 games above the .500 mark. They are fourth in the East and could move into third on Friday if they win and the Cavaliers lose. Even with Wall out, things continue to look up for Washington.

PODCAST: BIGGEST STORYLINES COMING OUT OF ALL-STAR BREAK

Hornets have had their number

The Wizards haven't done so well against the Hornets so far this season. Charlotte has taken both meetings and that includes a 24-point win on Jan. 17. That game featured Dwight Howard taunting the Wizards late in the fourth quarter.

Howard has killed the Wizards through two games with averages of 22.0 points and 14.0 rebounds. Jeremy Lamb (20.0 ppg vs. Wizards) has been a big factor as well as All-Star Kemba Walker (21.5 ppg vs. Wizards).

The last time these teams played about a month ago frustrations boiled over in an incident that got Tim Frazier ejected. Michael Carter-Williams picked a fight with Jason Smith and Frazier went off:

RELATED: BEAL IMPRESSED BY LEBRON AT ALL-STAR GAME

Hornets coming in hot

The Hornets are outside the playoff picture at the moment at eight games below .500, but they have won two straight games and Walker and Howard are coming off huge games. In a win over the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday, Walker dropped 31 points and Howard grabbed 24 rebounds.

Those guys will be riding a high coming into Washington on Friday. But it should be noted that Howard complained after the game how tired he is at this point in the season. That exhausion could affect him more in the second game of a back-to-back.

RELATED: LATEST NBA POWER RANKINGS

 

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5 must-see moments from Wizards' huge road win over Cavaliers, including Markieff Morris' alley-oop

5 must-see moments from Wizards' huge road win over Cavaliers, including Markieff Morris' alley-oop

Here are the five best plays or moments from the Washington Wizards' 110-103 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday night...

1. The Wizards didn't start out well, as they trailed by nine points at the end of the first quarter. Kelly Oubre, Jr. stumbled early by missing four of his first six shots and it looked like a carryover of his slump before the All-Star break.

But Oubre got hot in the second quarter and helped the Wizards turn the game around. This was one of his best plays, a two-handed slam that he celebrated with an emphatic scream to the crowd:

RELATED: BEAL IMPRESSED BY LEBRON AT ALL-STAR GAME

2. Tomas Satoransky was one of the stars of the game. He had 17 points to go along with eight assists, four rebounds and two steals. 

Here's one of his dimes, a perfect alley-oop lob to Markieff Morris, who finished with nine points and eight rebounds:

3. Satoransky has reached double-figures in six of the 10 games since John Wall went out with an injury. This was a very impressive move, a stepback fadeaway that was super smooth:

RELATED: GET TO KNOW NEW WIZARDS FREE AGENT SIGNING

4. Ian Mahinmi made some key contributions including four offensive rebounds and a steal. This was his best basket, a powerful slam that came at a key time:

5. This play helped seal the victory. It was a smart after-timeout set drawn up by head coach Scott Brooks and it worked to perfection:

RELATED: LATEST NBA POWER RANKINGS