The San Francisco 49ers took care of what they needed to do to earn the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs with a 27-13 victory over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. When they discovered the Minnesota Vikings had defeated the Green Bay Packers, which gave them the second seed and a bye (which they almost threw away in December), the San Francisco locker room burst into pandemonium.
Here’s the thing: getting into the playoffs isn’t enough anymore. Winning a division title or reaching the NFC Championship game doesn’t cut it. Like Michael Crabtree said in his post-game press conference, “We’ve been here before.”
Crabtree was responding to a question about his chances on being a Pro Bowler with Colin Kaepernick as his quarterback for a full season, but you have to feel he’s making the point that he’s already “done it.” He wants more. So does the rest of the team that was there last year.
Crabtree and Kaepernick teamed up to connect for eight catches and 172 yards, including two touchdowns. Crabtree reached 1,000 yards for the first time in his NFL career and became the first 49ers wide receiver to reach that number since Terrell Owens. Kaepernick and Crabtree recorded season-highs in passing and receiving yards, respectively. Ricky Jean-Francois recorded two sacks, a season high. Aldon Smith broke the franchise record for sacks. Frank Gore became the 49ers’ all-time leader in career rushing touchdowns Sunday with 51.
The accomplishments by the 49ers offensive and defensive leaders are the things that could give them the momentum to reach the Super Bowl. Think about it. When’s the last time the 49ers accomplished these kinds of milestones? Marks like that haven’t been reached since the times of Bill Walsh and George Seifert. Those were the glory days.
If San Francisco were to reach the Super Bowl, and win, it’d be a return to those glory days. The Gold Rush reborn. Right now, the Harbaugh-coached 49ers are known as a good team that can be great, but dynasties win championships, not just playoff games.
Anything less than reaching the big game isn’t acceptable this year, not with this level of talent and not with Kaepernick being Harbaugh’s choice to lead this team over veteran Alex Smith. If Smith were leading this team, it’s easier to say it could reach the Super Bowl, but with Kaepernick at the helm, there’s no known experience to look on and say, “He’s done this before.” The fact is, he hasn’t.
Experience aside, Kaepernick may be the one playoff quarterback in the NFL that is surrounded by talent that makes him a better player. As long as he doesn’t show signs of being a second-year quarterback, and the rest of the pieces “click” for him, San Francisco could cruise through the playoffs to New Orleans. The 49ers need to play absolutely mistake-free football to do that though.
The thing is, the final five weeks of the season showed how San Francisco isn’t a sure lock to do that.
Reach Peter Fournier at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/p_fournier.