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SANTA CLARA -- Colin Kaepernick took over as quarterback of the 49ers -- at the time he did -- because of a quarterback sneak.
The 49ers’ seldom-used play made a return on Sunday in the NFC divisional round game in the team’s 23-10 victory over the Carolina Panthers. And the timing appeared to be perfect.
When the 49ers met the Panthers in November, their failure to convert short-yardage situations was the key factor in the team’s 10-9 loss at Candlestick Park. On Sunday, the 49ers kept the ball in Kaepernick’s hands on two occasions to keep the chains moving.
On the 49ers’ first possession of the second half, they were faced with a third-and-1 from the Panthers’ 48. Kaepernick followed left guard Mike Iupati who made blocks on defensive tackle Dwan Edwards and linebacker Thomas Davis to enable Kaepernick to pick up the necessary yard. It was the 49ers' first first-down rushing of the game.
Kaepernick hit Anquan Boldin on a 45-yard pass on the next play, and two plays later he kept the ball on a read option for a 4-yard touchdown.
In the fourth quarter, Kaepernick again kept the ball on a quarterback sneak for a 3-yard gain on a third-and-1 situation. The 49ers held the ball for 2 ½ more minutes before settling for Phil Dawson’s 34-yard field goal.
So why did the 49ers employ the quarterback sneak on Sunday?
“We felt we had the look for it, and because we hadn’t done it much this season or really in the past couple seasons, felt like it was a good strategic maneuver,” 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said.
The last time the 49ers are believed to have used a quarterback sneak was in Week 10 of last season against the St. Louis Rams. Alex Smith used a sneak to pick up a first down. But afterward he complained of blurred vision that led to Kaepernick taking over as quarterback.
(UPDATE: Alert reader @UndraftedTweets pointed out on Twitter that Kaepernick ran a sneak in the first game against Seattle this season. Kaepernick moved forward for 1 yard for a first down on a third-and-1 play with the 49ers trailing 22-3 in the fourth quarter.)
Smith sustained a big hit from Rams linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar earlier in the game. Six plays later -- and after with a break at the end of the first quarter -- Smith executed the quarterback sneak.
"He said he had the blurred vision after the quarterback sneak," Harbaugh said at the time. "There's no telling. Did that earlier hit contribute? I don't know. I don't know Alex knows for sure, either."