By John McMullen, NFL Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Sequels rarely live up to their predecessors, but Colin Kaepernick is evidently a really big fan of Francis Ford Coppola.
When the Green Bay Packers last saw Kaepernick in January of last season, he guided the San Francisco 49ers to a 45-31 divisional round playoff win over the Green and Gold, throwing a pair of touchdown passes and adding two more with his feet.
When the carnage was finally assessed in Titletown, the realization set in that Kaepernick ran for 181 yards - the NFL single-game rushing record by a quarterback - and made Packers All-Pro rush linebacker Clay Matthews look like a member of the Keystone Cops.
Matthews and the rest of Green Bay's overmatched defense just couldn't figure out the pistol offense, and were embarrassed by just how easily the then- second-year pro with little starting experience could read the edge rusher (in most cases Matthews) and exploit what he was seeing.
With an entire offseason to stew, Matthews either advertised the Packers' game plan or his agenda on ESPN Radio's "Mike & Mike" program before Sunday's rematch, saying Green Bay planned to put plenty of hits on Kaepernick in an attempt to rattle him.
It was the same tact Baltimore coach John Harbaugh took in Super Bowl XLVII, telling his intimidating defensive edge presence, Terrell Suggs, to virtually ignore running back Frank Gore in favor of laying the wood to Kaepernick whenever possible.
Harbaugh's plan worked to some extent as Kaepernick did look spooked at times, but remember he also came up a mere five yards short from pulling off an amazing 22-point comeback.
Perhaps more importantly, though, Jim Harbaugh was on the opposite sideline from his older brother and learned a valuable lesson. He understands the Super Bowl is now the template for stopping Kaepernick, so he shifted his plan on Sunday and relied on his quarterback's famed 94 mile-an-hour fastball.
In a follow-up reminiscent of Coppola's "The Godfather Part II," Kaepernick outplayed the game's best quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, and kicked off his first full season as San Francisco's starting signal caller with a resounding win over Matthews and Co.
Kaepernick threw for 412 yards and three touchdowns, while Gore's go-ahead 1- yard touchdown late in the fourth helped the reigning NFC champions claim a 34-28 victory over Green Bay.
Kaepernick finished 27-of-39 and became the first San Francisco quarterback to throw for 400-plus yards since Tim Rattay accomplished the feat on Nov. 10, 2004.
Anquan Boldin, acquired from Baltimore for a sixth-round pick in the offseason, quickly asserted himself as Kaepernick's favorite target in the absence of the injured Michael Crabtree, hauling in 13 passes for 208 yards and a score.
"We knew they were going to come in ready to play after what happened in the playoffs," Boldin said. "We had to come out and match their intensity."
Kaepernick's brilliant performance, however, was offset by a Matthews cheap shot and the ensuing handling of it by referee Bill Leavy's crew.
With 9:30 left in the first half of Sunday's game, Matthews launched himself at Kaepernick, who had just run out of bounds after a 4-yard gain from the Green Bay 10-yard line.
A late hit personal foul call on Matthews was negated when San Francisco left tackle Joe Staley played bodyguard and grabbed Matthews' jersey before the USC product responded by throwing two punches.
"When somebody's taking a cheap shot or trying to do something after the whistle, we teach him to lock up," Jim Harbaugh said when talking about Staley's actions. "He did that and then Matthews throws two punches at him. The officials had their explanation, and maybe saw some other things that I didn't see, but, yeah, I thought that for it to even be offsetting, I didn't see it that way from my vantage point."
A dead ball foul which would have resulted in a fourth down and a field goal attempt was incorrectly labeled as offsetting penalties by Leavy, giving Kaepernick an extra chance, which he took advantage of by tossing a TD pass to Boldin to give his team a 14-7 edge.
"On the play where the quarterback went out of bounds and was hit late out of bounds, and then there was a subsequent hit by a San Francisco player, the down should have counted," Leavy admitted after the game to a pool reporter. "The penalties were both dead ball, and they should have offset at the spot where the runner went out of bounds. And it would have been fourth down."
Maybe Leavy's miscue was poetic justice, however.
Launching at a quarterback -- especially one as high profile as Kaepernick -- isn't exactly in the NFL's narrative these days.
"You're hearing a lot of tough talk right now," Harbaugh said. "You're hearing some intimidating-type of talk. Same things we were hearing a couple of years ago. It sounds a lot like targeting a specific player. You definitely start to wonder.
"A man will usually tell you his bad intentions if you just listen. You know what's being said publicly, you wonder what's being said privately."
Matthews went old school in what is anything but an old school sport right now. He tried to play bully on the playground and should have been tossed, if not for launching himself at Kaepernick four yards off the playing field, then for the two punches he threw at Staley.
Kaepernick responded by refusing to give up his lunch money and staying above the fray with both his play and actions.
"If intimidation is your game plan, I hope you have a better one," he said.
Matthews and the Packers didn't.
09/09 10:47:30 ET