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San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick exits the field after the game against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium. / David Butler II, USA TODAY Sports

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- If Colin Kaepernick was going to crack, this was the place, against a future Hall of Fame quarterback leading a furious comeback amid a cold, relentless December rain.

Forget the modern-day Joe Montana, three-time New England Patriots Super Bowl-winner Tom Brady, who grew up with posters of Montana and Jerry Rice hanging on the walls of his San Mateo, Calif., bedroom. The second-year 49ers quarterback channeled his own inner Montana, staying calm amid the storm after Brady led his fourth unanswered touchdown drive to tie a back-and-forth shootout at 31-all.

Then, against an all-out, Bill Belichick-orchestrated Patriots blitz, Kaepernick found his quick answer throw and, just maybe, the 49ers' road map to Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans.

San Francisco's newest comeback kid came of age on a national stage Sunday night when he hit Michael Crabtree for the winning 28-yard touchdown to out-duel Brady in a riveting 41-34 San Francisco win.

This was the type of night that compelled coach Jim Harbaugh to elevate Kaepernick over Alex Smith five games ago -- to win a game billed as a potential Super Bowl preview.

"I told everybody from the beginning, Colin is the truth," linebacker Aldon Smith said. "Everybody wants to be surprised. The kid is good. We keep expecting good things from him. We want to get past where we were last year and get to New Orleans."

A 49ers team that went 13-3 only to lose a heart-breaking NFC Championship game to the eventual Super Bowl-champion New York Giants may be on its way to where it hopes after clinching a postseason berth.

If he was nervous, Kaepernick never showed it, throwing four touchdowns in leading his team to the most points the 10-4 Patriots have allowed this season.

His best play this season, his second touchdown to Crabtree, was the type of pressure throw elite comeback quarterbacks make on the biggest stages.

"It is a little bit crazy, a little bit surreal," Kaepernick said after hitting 14 of 25 passes for 216 yards. "But I'm just trying to keep my head down and keep it going as long as I can."

His teammates will take care of getting him his due.

"I don't think anyone can question him now," tight end Vernon Davis said. "He made some big-time plays in a big-time game. We've got to stick with him."


Especially since that 27-yard touchdown Kaepernick roped to Crabtree down the seam over three defenders that put the 49ers up 31-3 with 10:21 left in the third quarter was a throw that isn't in Alex Smith's repertoire.

How many quarterbacks can make that throw?

"Not many," Davis said. "Colin has a very strong arm. The situation we were put in tonight with the rain and the cold weather, it was a test for us. And we came out on top. It's an honor to win this game against Tom Brady.

"We went to the playoffs last year for the first time. And to make it back this year is a beautiful thing. We're still on a journey."

Coach Jim Harbaugh's 10-3-1 team next travels to Seattle for a chance to clinch a second straight NFC West title.

After Danny Woodhead ducked into the end zone on a 1-yard tying touchdown, rookie LaMichael James bolted 62 yards with the ensuing kickoff to the New England 38-yard line, setting up Kaepernick's winning score.

"That was a tough game to play quarterback," Harbaugh said. "It was a heck of a football game. Kap is definitely acquitting himself well. He has a poise beyond his years."

It's the type of battle-tested win that can carry a team a long way.

Brady lamented a thrilling comeback that fell short, blaming four turnovers, including an uncharacteristic two interceptions by a league MVP candidate who had thrown just five in 13 previous games.

He wound end up throwing for 443 yards, completing 36 of 65 passes.

"I had a feeling we'd be able to come back," Brady said after surpassing 4,000 yards passing in a season for the fifth time. "We hung in there. We battled back from a 28-point deficit. But we just made too many mistakes when we needed to make the plays.

"We just spotted them 28 points."

And Kaepernick stood up when Brady pushed him hard.

"I kept talking to our offense, saying, 'We have to keep putting up points; we're going to have to score, especially the way they were putting up points,' " Kaepernick said. "It feels great to get this win and help us move forward to where we want to be for the playoffs."

Said Patriots safety Devin McCourty: "Nothing seems to rattle him."

He could have been talking about his teammate, Brady.

Instead, McCourty had to give praise last night to the new comeback kid.



Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com

Read the original story: Colin Kaepernick rises to occasion as 49ers top Patriots

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