SAN FRANCISCO — Fourth down and 2 yards to go at the Green Bay 36 with exactly three minutes left in the game, the 49ers nursing a 31-28 lead, and everyone in the house knew exactly where Colin Kaepernick's pass was heading. Presumably, that included the visiting Packers, but they were powerless to stop it.
Kaepernick rolled right, waited for Anquan Boldin to separate himself from a defender and coolly dropped in the ball for a 15-yard gain and a first down.
There would be other developments in the final couple of minutes — a 49ers field goal, a long completion to Randall Cobb with time running out, a game-ending pressure by linebacker Aldon Smith — but the fourth-down conversion is what really sealed the Niners' 34-28 victory on Sunday at Candlestick Park, and it's appropriate that Boldin was involved.
Stepping in for injured No. 1 receiver Michael Crabtree, Boldin — who burned the 49ers for six catches, 104 yards and a touchdown in Super Bowl XLVII in February before coming to San Francisco in an offseason trade — made the transition easier than anyone could have expected. The wideout caught 13 passes (tied for fourth in team history) for 208 yards (eighth in team history) and a score, repeatedly finding himself open in the Green Bay secondary, and wrestling the ball away from overmatched defensive backs or making one-handed grabs when he wasn't.
"They kept letting him get open and, I mean, he played like a grown man today," Kaepernick said. "He made plays even when he shouldn't have."
As 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said of Boldin: "We did give up a (sixth-round) draft choice for him and (are) paying him a lot of money. But definitely think he's worth every penny."
For the record, Boldin is making $6 million this year. It will take more than one big game to justify that, but the 11-year veteran is well on his way. And he wasn't the only 49ers target doing damage against Green Bay. Tight end Vernon Davis caught six passes for 98 yards and two touchdowns.
The Packers, humiliated by the playoff collapse last year, came into the 2013 season opener determined to keep Kaepernick in the pocket, and to limit Frank Gore's effectiveness on the ground. They largely accomplished those tasks, more or less daring Kaepernick to beat them through the air. He accommodated, shredding the visitors for 412 yards and three touchdowns.
Kaepernick was the first 49ers quarterback to pass for 400 yards since, improbably, Tim Rattay did it against Arizona on Oct. 10, 2004.
"I keep telling people how good of a quarterback he is," Boldin said of Kaepernick. "Everybody looks at how athletic he is and that he's a 'running quarterback,' but he is a quarterback first. Being able to run is just a bonus for him."
It took all of those Kaepernick passing yards to subdue the Packers, who fought back from a deficit three times and took their first lead of the game, 28-24, on a 2-yard run by rookie running back Eddie Lacy with 8:26 to play.
It was a critical moment for the 49ers, who responded with a nifty drive that moved 50 yards downfield and, more important, killed 4:26 of the final 4:52, aided by that fourth-down throw to Boldin. The Niners had initially tried to draw the Packers offside on fourth-and-2, then ran the fateful play after dual timeouts.