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Kaepernick delivers, 49ers beat Packers 45-31

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Kaepernick delivers, 49ers beat Packers 45-31

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) Colin Kaepernick ran for a quarterback playoff record 181 yards and two touchdowns and threw two scoring passes to Michael Crabtree in leading the San Francisco 49ers back to the NFC championship game with a 45-31 victory against the Green Bay Packers on Saturday night.

Playoff first-timer Kaepernick outshined reigning NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers, who never got in sync for the Packers (12-6) in finishing 26 of 39 for 257 yards with two touchdowns.

Kaepernick ran for scores of 20 and 56 yards on the way to topping the rushing mark of 119 yards set by Michael Vick in 2005 against St. Louis. Crabtree caught TD passes of 12 and 20 yards in the second quarter and wound up with nine receptions and 119 yards for the Niners (12-4-1) in the NFC divisional matchup.

San Francisco had 579 total yards, 323 on the ground.

Kaepernick, the second-year pro out of Nevada who supplanted Alex Smith at quarterback in a much-debated move by coach Jim Harbaugh, shook off an interception that Sam Shields ran back 52 yards for a touchdown on San Francisco's first possession to twice rally the 49ers from a TD behind.

Kaepernick's 56-yard TD run on a read-option keeper in the third quarter - the longest by a quarterback in franchise history - gave the 49ers a 31-24 lead. He stopped in the end zone and flexed his right arm, smiling all the way back to the sideline.

The scores mark the fourth time in NFL history a player had two touchdowns rushing and two touchdowns passing in a postseason game.

Kaepernick also led another drive that David Akers finished with a 36-yard field goal to put the 49ers ahead 24-21 as the first half ended.

Frank Gore also ran for a 2-yard touchdown 3 seconds into the fourth quarter to extend San Francisco's lead to 38-24.

Rodgers rallied the Packers after tossing his own interception. The former Cal star threw a 20-yard scoring strike to James Jones, and DaJuan Harris ran for an 18-yard touchdown.

The amped-up crowd at Candlestick Park endured a flurry of emotions at the start.

With San Francisco looking to return to the NFC title game for the second straight season, Kaepernick's costly error quieted the 49ers faithful. Shields stepped in front of Kaepernick's pass, shook the quarterback to the ground and scampered down the sideline to give the Packers a quick 7-0 lead.

Kaepernick unclipped his jaw strap and dropped his head to the sideline while Shields waved his hands at the crowd. Rodgers pumped his fist on the Packers sideline.

Kaepernick converted two third downs to bring the 49ers back on their next drive. He bought time and scurried out of the pocket to find running back Gore for a 45-yard gain, then darted 20 yards up the middle on third-and-8 for the tying score.

When Rodgers and the Packers offense finally took the field, they didn't do much the first time out. San Francisco stopped Rodgers, who had a contingent of friends and family make the 4-hour trek from his hometown of Chico, on a three-and-out that whipped the crowd back into a frenzy on a crisp night along the bay.

Rodgers found his groove and floated a 44-yard pass that Jones leaped to snatch over two defenders along the sideline. Then Harris broke through the middle to put the Packers up 14-7 on the next play.

Green Bay made its share of mistakes, too.

Jeremy Ross muffed a punt and Chris Spillman recovered at the Packers' 9. Three plays later, Kaepernick found Crabtree running free over the middle for a tying 12-yard touchdown pass.

San Francisco's stout defense often took a linebacker off the field to drop an extra defensive back in coverage against Rodgers, just as the 49ers did in a 30-22 win in the season opener at Lambeau Field. The strategy flustered Rodgers enough that he overthrew Jordy Nelson on a deep pass that Tarrell Brown intercepted. Rodgers had gone 184 passes without an interception.

Kaepernick broke another 15-yard run on third down, but officials whistled him for a 15-yard taunting penalty for tossing the ball in the direction of Green Bay defenders. He brushed that off to hit Crabtree on a 20-yard touchdown pass to give the 49ers a 21-14 lead midway through the second quarter.

On its next series, Green Bay took advantage of a 15-yard personal foul penalty Dashon Goldson was given for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Harris. Rodgers then threaded a tying 20-yard TD to Jones between three defenders in the end zone with 2:33 remaining. Kaepernick responded and led the 49ers downfield to give the struggling Akers, who had to beat out Billy Cundiff to keep his job, a chance.

Rodgers led the Packers on a nine-play 76-yard drive midway through the third quarter. Mason Crosby kicked a 31-yard field to tie the game at 24 in the third quarter

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Kobe Bryant received a standing ovation for his final game in DC, then went off

Kobe Bryant received a standing ovation for his final game in DC, then went off

When the Lakers traveled to D.C. on Dec. 2, 2015, for what was Kobe Bryant’s last game in Washington, they were out to one of their worst starts in franchise history.

At 2-15, Los Angeles was in the midst of a 17-win season—still the lowest win total the franchise has ever had. But the 2015-16 campaign will always stand out in the memories of Lakers fans for being the final season of five-time NBA champion Kobe Bryant. He announced prior to the year that it’d be his last, setting the stage for a farewell tour as he traveled to opposing arenas for the final time.

Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna were among the nine people who died in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California, on Sunday. His death sent shockwaves across the sports landscape, prompting players, fans, coaches and team executives from across the globe to reminisce on some of his greatest moments and achievements.

During that final season, Bryant is most remembered for scoring 60 points in his final game. But those vintages performances were few and far between, as he statistically had the worst year of his career.

Washington wasn’t so fortunate to catch him on one of those off nights.

The Lakers were playing in the second game of a back-to-back, but 37-year-old Bryant wasn’t taking the night off. After receiving a tribute on the scoreboard and standing ovation from the crowd of just over 20,000, Bryant came out of the gates looking like the Mamba of old. He scored 18 points in the first half on 5-of-11 shooting (.455) as Los Angeles went into the break up 57-51.

Heading into the contest, Bryant was averaging just 15.8 points per game. His season high to that point was 24, which he scored in the season opener.

John Wall wouldn’t let the Wizards, who entered the game 7-8 on the year, go down quietly. He flirted with a triple-double, scoring a game-high 34 points with 11 assists and seven rebounds. The Wizards closed the gap and held a one-point lead with a minute to go.

That’s when Bryant took matters into his own hands.

On the ensuing possession, he found some separation and sank a three-pointer to put the Lakers up by two. Marcin Gortat forced in a layup seven seconds later, so Bryant worked himself into a one-on-one situation with Bradley Beal and hit a fadeaway jumper with the same form that had kids everywhere shouting, “Kobe!” every time they shot a crumpled-up sheet of paper into a trash can.

The shot gave Los Angeles a lead it wouldn’t relinquish, and Bryant finished the night with 31 points—including 12 in the fourth quarter.

Washington would get its revenge, beating Bryant and the Lakers on the West Coast later that year. But of all the moments throughout his farewell tour, Bryant’s turn-back-the-clock performance in D.C. stands out as one of his best.

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Remembering Kobe Bryant's 55-point game in his last matchup against Michael Jordan

Remembering Kobe Bryant's 55-point game in his last matchup against Michael Jordan

As the basketball world mourns the death of NBA legend Kobe Bryant, memories of his career and the highlights that made us fall in love with him are surfacing. One of the most well-told narratives of Bryant’s 20-year career was his pursuit of Michael Jordan as the greatest player of all-time. 

Bryant idolized Jordan and was relentless in his pursuit of at least matching Jordan’s six championships. He competed like Jordan, scored like Jordan, berated teammates and opponents alike like Jordan and came up one title short of his idol’s total.

On one night, however, Bryant did get the best of His Airness -- in their last of eight head-to-head matchups. 

On March 28, 2003, a Friday night in Los Angeles, Bryant put on a show, scoring 55 points in what would stand as his highest scoring total ever against the Washington Wizards.

The Lakers defeated the Wizards, 108-94. Jordan, who had just turned 40 that February and was less than a month from ending his legendary career, finished with a team-high 23 points in over 40 minutes.

Bryant was in a different zone, though, dropping 42 points in the first half alone. Through the first two quarters, he made 14 of 19 shots from the field, including 8 of 11 three-point attempts. While he cooled off in the second half, shooting just 1-for-10, he added to his point total by knocking down 10 free throws. The performance stands as the ninth-highest scoring total of Bryant’s career, and his three-point shooting that night -- 9-of-13 -- is the biggest reason the Wizards are the only team he shot over 40 percent from three against in his career.

Going into that game, Bryant was already a three-time NBA champion at 24 years old and seemed to have gained Jordan’s respect as a player. But Jordan may have inadvertendly fueled Bryant's performance that night. Ex-Wizard Gilbert Arenas told a story on "The No Chill Podcast" of MJ telling Bryant he could never fill his shoes after the Wizards defeated the Lakers earlier in the season. Arenas claims Bryant didn't talk to his teammates for two weeks leading up to the rematch -- he internalized the jab from Jordan and turned it into the 55-point game he put up against the Wizards.

After learning of Bryant’s death in a helicopter crash on Sunday, Jordan released a statement through his spokeswoman saying Bryant was like a little brother to him.

“I am in shock over the tragic news of Kobe’s and Gianna’s passing. Words can’t describe the pain I’m feeling," the statement read. "I loved Kobe -- he was like a little brother to me. We used to talk often, and I will miss those conversations very much. He was a fierce competitor, one of the greats of the game and a creative force. Kobe was also an amazing dad who loved his family deeply -- and took pride in his daughter’s love for the game of basketball. Yvette joins me in sending my deepest condolences to to Vanessa, the Lakers organization and basketball fans around the world.”


Jordan and Bryant exchanged some fun and memorable banter in not only that game but in several of their meetings towards the latter part of Jordan’s career. Just a month earlier, the two went head-to-head in the 2003 All-Star Game. Each started, and clocked 36 minutes, in the double-overtime game, Bryant scoring 22 points for the winning Western Conference, Jordan scoring 20 for the East.

Bryant actually finished his career with a 5-3 head-to-head record against Jordan -- four of those matchups coming against the Wizards. Jordan averaged 24.5 points in those games and Bryant averaged 22.8 points. Whether Bryant actually surpassed Jordan or other legends as the greatest basketball player is debatable, but most agree that Bryant’s style and how he approached the game was as close to Jordan as any other player.

There was no better example of this than that March night in 2003.