CHARLOTTE. N.C. — Damn straight, Colin Kaepernick rubbed it in. He had his reasons. Halfway through Sunday's third quarter, the 49ers quarterback sprinted into the end zone for a touchdown that put his team completely in charge of the game.
And then he did some major, major revenge-celebrating.
First, Kaepernick performed a “ripping open his suit across the chest” motion that mimicked the “Superman” touchdown celebration that Carolina quarterback Cam Newton likes to flash.
Next, the 49ers quarterback transitioned into his own trademark biceps-kissing motion that the NFL has come to know as “Kaepernicking.”
And after that? After that, it was all downhillnicking to victorynicking, to set up some serious Seattlenicking next week for the NFC title.
But for the record, Colin, what was the elaborate TD routine all about?
“Uh, just a little shout-out,” said Kaepernick.
“I think you know the answer,” Kaepernick said.
Newton certainly did. Oh, he absolutely knew. If Sunday's playoff matchup was supposed to decide which athletic, young, mobile NFL quarterback was the better man to have on your side ... well, Newton understood that he had finished a convincing second in that competition. He also witnessed and absorbed every second of Kaepernick's mocking salute.
“I did,” Newton said. “That's not the first, nor will it be the last time somebody does that. But ... ”
Newton didn't finish the sentence. Just as he didn't finish many Carolina offensive drives. He also threw two interceptions and was sacked five times.
Kaepernick, meanwhile, had his hands solidly on the 49ers' steering wheel all day long. On the team's first seven possessions, he produced five scores. Kaepernick had one close call on an interception but managed his way through a turnover-free afternoon. He threw a pass for six points, ran for six more.
All of it was extra sweetener in Kaepernick's playoff coffee cup. Last week, he acknowledged how it still bugs him that Newton was picked first overall in the 2011 college draft, the same year that Kaepernick was the 36th man selected, in the second round.
But what about after Sunday's victory? Did that make it easier for him to put aside the snub?
“I still won't forget it,” Kaepernick said.
So, yes, Kaepernick felt he was entitled to do a little revenge-celebrating. And his teammates backed him up on it — mostly because they remembered what had happened back in November at Candlestick Park when the Panthers had defeated the 49ers 10-9.
“It's funny,” said Kaepernick's center, Jonathan Goodwin. “I was talking about it on the sidelines how, when Carolina came into San Francisco, they were kissing their biceps. So you get what you ask for.”
Vernon Davis, who caught Kaepernick's touchdown pass, agreed.
“It's just him being Kappy,” Davis said. “We can't judge him. He was just excited. I'm sure him and Cam are good friends, and still will be.”
As a bonus, Kaepernick's pointed celebration opened up the door a little more in terms of what makes him tick. That can be a hard door to wedge open. During media sessions, he displays calculated reticence.
Not this time. Kaepernick was downright silly when he entered the normally sterile interview room after Sunday's game. Wide receiver Anquan Boldin was still speaking at the podium, so on a whim, Kaepernick grabbed the notebook of this newspaper's 49ers beat writer, Cam Inman, and began scribbling in it as Boldin spoke.
Not only that, but Kaepernick blurted out a final question to Boldin.
“What was your mentality coming into the game, Anquan?” asked Kaepernick.
“I already answered that one,” Boldin said, deadpan.
“I wasn't here,” Kaepernick said. “Could you please repeat yourself?”
At this, Boldin chuckled and answered: “Fight.”
(Incidentally, here's what Kaepernick wrote in Inman's notebook, each phrase underlined: “Good Shoes. Big earrings. Fight!” You'll have to translate it yourself, but it seemed to be his comments on Boldin's fashion choices, followed by the accurate quote.)
Once it was Kaepernick's turn to face questions, of course, Boldin turned the tables and asked: “Why didn't you throw the ball to Anquan earlier?”
Kaepernick just laughed and didn't answer. But he was eager to talk about how, on a day when Carolina's players were yapping and goading him verbally, he had refused to be rattled.
“I'm not just going to let you say anything you want to me,” Kaepernick said. “If you are going to say something to me, I am going to respond.”
He also addressed the difference between Sunday and what had happened back in November against Carolina, when he was pretty close to awful, with only 91 passing yards and a costly interception. On that day, Kaepernick noted, receiver Michael Crabtree was still rehabbing his Achilles injury and Davis missed most of the game with a concussion. Their presence Sunday was crucial.
“It opens the offense up,” Kaepernick said. “It spread the defense out. They can't just key in on one player. ... I think coming out in the second half today, we were confident with what we were doing.”
Will that be enough against the Seahawks next weekend? Kaepernick is an emphatic 0-2 at Seattle in his young career. But he is still not close to being fully formed as an NFL quarterback. These last two playoff games have probably provided him more clutch experience than a dozen regular-season games. He has to be more prepared for next Sunday's game than he was in the 29-3 loss at CenturyLink Field in Week 2.
After all, very quietly, Kaepernick has now done something that Joe Montana and Steve Young never were faced with — winning back-to-back road playoff games. The Montana-Young teams never had that opportunity because they often had home-field advantage, but any playoff achievement is nothing to dismiss.
Just ask Newton. Sunday, it took the Panthers' co-captain an hour before he met reporters because he was so emotionally crushed.
“Playoff football is different football,” Newton said. “I learned that firsthand today. You have to seize the moment when the moment is there.”
Only one quarterback seized that particular moment Sunday. It wasn't the guy who was drafted first. It was the guy who did the 36th-pick celebration dance.