- Associated Press - Thursday, January 2, 2014

SANTA CLARA, CALIF. (AP) - Colin Kaepernick has no idea why two of his best games as a pro have come against the very team he grew up cheering as a Packers cheesehead.

He has beaten Green Bay nearly every way imaginable in two meetings over the past year. In a sensational playoff debut last January, he used his speedy legs to run for a quarterback playoff-record 181 yards and a pair of touchdowns. In the season opener in September, the strong-armed San Francisco QB threw for a career-best 412 yards and three scores.

“Really can’t say why, it has just worked out that way,” Kaepernick said about the success. “We’ve played well when we’ve played against them.”

He is hoping for the same result by whatever means necessary Sunday, when the reigning NFC champion Niners (12-4) play in the bitter cold of Green Bay in the wild-card playoff round as they chase a return trip to the Super Bowl and the franchise’s sixth championship.

The biggest challenge for Kaepernick this time might be holding onto the ball as the temperature dips into single digits _ or, gasp, below.

“The ball is going to be harder and that’s really the No. 1 obstacle,” offensive coordinator Greg Roman said Thursday. “It’s more about the ball and the grip.”

That divisional-round playoff win last year at Candlestick Park is still fresh for all involved. It went a long way to launch not only an impressive Super Bowl run for San Francisco but also an offseason filled with glamorous appearances and awards shows for Kaepernick with his newfound rock-star status.

“Everybody calls that kind of his breakout game,” center Jonathan Goodwin said. “He made a lot of big plays with his legs and that sticks out.”

Kaepernick’s first full season as a starter this year has had some bumps, with a pair of two-game losing streaks as well as several big performances like that Week 1 outing against the Packers.

San Francisco has outscored Green Bay 79-59 the past two games, while also defeating the Packers 30-22 in Week 1 of 2012 at Lambeau Field.

Whether Kaepernick can duplicate what he has already accomplished against the team he long loved will be seen Sunday.

“Just pretty good execution there,” Roman said. “It’s probably just happenstance really. Colin played really well and everybody around him played really well as well. Every game’s different.”

Green Bay sure knows it. After spending significant time during the offseason focused on stopping the read option after the embarrassment that ensued following Kaepernick’s performance, the Packers did well stopping the run in Week 1 only to see Kaepernick go off with his arm _ completing 13 passes for 208 yards to Anquan Boldin.

Kaepernick presents problems no matter what. Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy knows there will be new wrinkles.

“Obviously, very versatile,” McCarthy said. “Excellent, big athlete. We’re preparing for their whole offense. Definitely the quarterback is always a focus. I look back at Week 1’s game from a defensive perspective, our run defense played well. The big plays were something that factored into that game.”

Big hits, too.

Typically one to say as little as possible, Kaepernick offered a parting shot for Packers linebacker Clay Matthews afterward.

Kaepernick took a late, out-of-bounds hit from Matthews _ out for Sunday’s game _ in the second quarter.

“If intimidation is your game plan, I hope you have a better one,” the tattooed play-caller said at the time.

The 26-year-old Kaepernick went on to lead his team back to the playoffs, this season as the wild-card team after missing a third straight NFC West crown with a second-place finish to the rival Seattle Seahawks.

The explosive Kaepernick threw for 3,197 yards and 21 touchdowns with eight interceptions while also rushing for 524 yards and four TDs.

Before each game, linebacker Patrick Willis pulls Kaepernick aside with the same message: “Go out and do your thing. We’ve got you on defense.”

The support from the other side of the ball means a lot.

Kaepernick has come a long way in a year’s time.

“Just more comfortable with the situation, with the scenario,” he said. “I think 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.”

While Kaepernick only makes it back to his native Wisconsin every year or two, he cherishes that time as a boy before he moved to Turlock, Calif.

Kaepernick might have scripted it quite like this. Same venue perhaps, warmer weather.

“I don’t think my dream was to play in freezing weather,” he said, “but to be in the playoffs and have this opportunity, yes, it’s part of the dream.”


AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

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