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Dawson's kick wins for 49ers


GREEN BAY, Wis. -#8212; The bitterly cold forecast for Sunday's NFC wild-card game at Lambeau Field concerned San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh. So twice, on Saturday and again before kickoff, he asked his quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, to reconsider his attempt to play in short sleeves and without gloves.

Both times, the Wisconsin-born Kaepernick declined.

"I'm a little hardheaded at times," Kaepernick said. "I played in cold-weather games before. I feel it's more mental than anything."

By nightfall, Kaepernick proved his mastery of the elements in San Francisco's 23-20 victory against Green Bay.

Maneuvering on a brown field with bare dirt between the hash marks, Kaepernick led San Francisco back from a 17-13 deficit to take the lead with a little more than 12 minutes to play. On the final drive, Kaepernick improvised a key 11-yard run after a pump fake, setting up Phil Dawson's 33-yard field goal as time expired.

It may not have been record cold for an NFL game, but the conditions were brutal -#8212; 5 degrees at kickoff, with a wind chill of minus 10. And the winning kick sent 49ers players running from the sideline to celebrate, shedding their long scarlet coats.

It was San Francisco's fourth consecutive victory against the Packers in the past two seasons, the second in the playoffs. The 49ers advance to face the host Carolina Panthers in a divisional-round game Sunday.

Kaepernick completed 16 of 30 attempts for 227 yards and a touchdown and ran for another 98 yards.

"We did not get it done as far as keeping the quarterback in the pocket," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said.

The runs, Harbaugh said, were largely unscripted.

"There wasn't a whole lot called out there today," Harbaugh said. "Our receivers were getting grabbed. I think Colin saw that and just took matters into his own hands. He gets around the edge so fast. If it was a yard, it was 20. It was unbelievable.

"Just clutch." <WC>

Though conditions were marginally better than for the NFC championship game played here between the Packers and the New York Giants in January 2008, which began with a temperature of minus 1 -#8212; minus 23 with the wind chill -#8212; they certainly were not optimal. Though it grew colder after the sun set, a crowd announced at 77,525 watched each team scored 10 points in a wild fourth quarter that included three lead changes and a tie.

<NO1>Green Bay, which lost cornerback Sam Shields and linebacker Mike Neal to knee injuries in the first quarter, went ahead by 17-13 after a strange sequence. San Francisco's Ray McDonald appeared to have Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers trapped on fourth down, until Rodgers slapped McDonald's hand, scampered away and fired a 26-yard completion to wideout Randall Cobb at the 49ers' 4. A Packer appeared to grab linebacker Ahmad Brooks' jersey on the play, but no penalty was called.

The week before, Rodgers and Cobb had hooked up for the winning score on a fourth down in Chicago that gave the Packers the NFC North title.

And when fullback John Kuhn scored from the 1 two plays later, he could not complete a Lambeau Leap, that celebratory jump into the end zone stands. Appearing embarrassed, Kuhn stood flat-footed while tapping more than a dozen fan hands raised his way.

But the 49ers came right back, scoring five plays later on a 28-yard pass that Kaepernick threaded between defenders on its way to tight end Vernon Davis.

"Kap dropped back and he just took a chance," Davis said. "He trusts me."

Rodgers drove the Packers to the 49ers' 9where Mason Crosby kicked a 24-yard field goal to tie the score<WC> at 20-20 with 5:09 to play.

Early on the final drive, Kaepernick found Michael Crabtree for 11- and 17-yard gains, the latter on a third-and-10 from the 49ers' 31. Crabtree would finish with eight catches for 125 yards. Kaepernick looked for Crabtree again on a third down from the Packers 38, but pulled the ball down and dashed left, gaining 11 yards before running out of bounds at the Green Bay 27 with 1:07 to go.

"I tried to go to him one-on-one, but it didn't look good to me, so I tried to make something happen," Kaepernick said.

Trying to give Dawson an easier kick, Harbaugh called four consecutive runs to Frank Gore, pushing the ball to the 15, where Harbaugh called his last timeout with three seconds to play. <WC>

"Every yard was valuable there," Harbaugh said. "That's why we kept trying to knock it closer."

After four consecutive runs by Frank Gore, Dawson came on for the winning kick.

Packers cornerback Davon House jumped offside from the left and nearly blocked the kick, which sailed between his outstretched arms. The 49ers, naturally, declined the penalty. The referee Ed Hochuli mistakenly announced the score as a touchdown.

"I saw the guy off the left wing get what I thought was jump prior to the snap," Dawson said. "I hurried up a little bit, knowing either I'd make it or get a retry 5 yards closer."