GREEN BAY, Wisc. — The 49ers dramatically won their playoff opener for a third straight year, only this time it came on the road at Lambeau Field, setting up a divisional-round meeting next Sunday at Carolina.
Colin Kaepernick engineered a compelling winning drive that yielded Phil Dawson's 33-yard field goal and a 23-20 victory over the Packers, finishing off what's believed to be Lambeau Field's seventh-coldest game ever (5 degrees at kickoff).
The fifth-seeded 49ers (13-4) now advance to face No. 2-seed Carolina (12-4). Former NFC West rivals, the Panthers prevailed over the 49ers at Candlestick 10-9 on Nov. 10.
Kaepernick got the 49ers into field-goal range (and kept the winning drive alive) when he scrambled 11 yards on third-and-8 to the Packers 27. Frank Gore ate up the next 12 yards on four carries to set up Dawson's winner.
That final drive started with an 11-yard completion to Michael Crabtree, who later moved the 49ers up to midfield with a 17-yard catch on third-and-10. Frank Gore got the 49ers into Packers territory with an 11-yard reception to the 40. In the midst of those key plays, Kaepernick nearly had a pass intercepted by Micah Hyde, who dropped what could have been a potential pick-six for a winning touchdown.
Only 1:35 after they fell behind 17-13, the 49ers retook the lead when Kaepernick connected with Vernon Davis on a 28-yard with 10:31 remaining in the fourth quarter.
A 24-yard, third-down run by Kaepernick and a defensive-holding penalty on Davon House preceded Davis' touchdown catch. It was Davis' seventh touchdown in as many games against Green Bay.
Aaron Rodgers worked his sack-evading magic on the Packers' ensuing drive. He avoided blitzing cornerback Perrish Cox and found Randall Cobb for a 25-yard completion to the 9. The Packers settled for a 24-yard field goal from Mason Crosby, tying the score at 20 with 5:06 remaining.
Earlier in the fourth quarter, Rodgers escaping Ray McDonald's grasp and completed a fourth-and-2 pass to Cobb for a 26-yard to the 4-yard line. Two snaps later, John Kuhn plunged into the end zone on a 1-yard run and put the Packers ahead 17-10 with 12:38 remaining.
The 49ers have never played Carolina in the playoffs, nor had the 49ers ever won a playoff game at Lambeau (in two previous attempts). If the 49ers win at Carolina, they'd play in a third straight NFC Championship Game, either at Seattle (if the Seahawks beat the Saints on Saturday) or at Candlestick Park on Jan. 19.