Sunday, June 24, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

49ers top Panthers, reach NFC Championship Game

Colin Kaepernick raced into the end zone, then pretended to rip open his shirt with both hands, imitating Cam Newton's Superman touchdown celebration.

Three years of frustration had come to a head.

"Just a little shout-out," Kaepernick said.

To whom?

"I think you know the answer," he said with a grin.

Kaepernick said he "will never forget" that he was selected in the second round of the 2011 NFL draft, 35 spots behind Newton, the Heisman Trophy winner and the top pick that season.

On Sunday, Kaepernick outplayed his quarterback counterpart, throwing for a touchdown and running for another as the 49ers defeated the Panthers 23-10 to reach the NFC title game for the third straight season.

It's San Francisco's 15th trip to the conference championship game, tops in the NFC (breaking a tie with Dallas) and tied with Pittsburgh for most in the NFL.

Kaepernick completed 15 of 28 for 196 yards in the division playoff win, avenging his worst statistical performance of the season in a 10-9 loss to the Panthers on Nov. 10.

"That's not the first, nor will it be the last time somebody does that," Newton said of Kaepernick's copycat display.

Former Florida State receiver Anquan Boldin had eight catches for 136 yards, and former Miami running back Frank Gore had 84 yards on 17 carries for the 49ers (14-4), who visit West Division rival Seattle on Sunday looking for a return trip to the Super Bowl.

"I think we're the two teams everybody was looking at from the beginning," Kaepernick said. "It's going to be a knockdown, drag-out game."

The 49ers will have their hands full.

San Francisco split two games with Seattle this season, but it lost 29-3 at Century­Link Field in September.

The 49ers missed receiver Michael Crabtree in that lopsided loss. He only had three catches for 26 yards against Carolina, but Boldin said Crabtree drew plenty of double teams that let Boldin get open.

"That's the great thing about our team — we have weapons all around," Boldin said. "You try to take one guy out and you still have two or three guys left who can make big plays."

The 49ers intercepted Newton twice and sacked him five times in the game, and they stopped the Panthers (12-5) twice on the San Francisco 1-yard line in the first half.

Newton finished with 267 yards passing and had 54 yards on 10 carries, but the Panthers only found the end zone on his 31-yard strike to Steve Smith.

Linebacker Ahmad Brooks stopped Newton on a fourth-down sneak early in the second quarter.

"Terrible ending to a great season," Newton said.

Kaepernick was held to 91 yards passing and 16 rushing and sacked six times in the first meeting with Carolina, but he played efficient Sunday.

"We had to get settled down," Kaepernick said. "We came out, they did some unorthodox things against us. We settled down, we got into our rhythm, we started making plays."

The 49ers took a 20-10 lead when Kaepernick scored in the third quarter on a 4-yard run off a read option, after which he broke out Newton's Superman celebration.

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