Playing without Smith, the 49ers faced off against the Bears with Kaepernick — making his first career start — under center. The second-year pro passed the test, throwing for 243 yards with two touchdowns and no turnovers. The 49ers defense held Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler to just 107 yards passing and two interceptions as they cruised to an easy win.

Week 12 (Nov. 25) at Mercedes-Benz Superdome: 49ers 31, New Orleans Saints 21

Kaepernick again started in place of Smith at quarterback, but his performance against the Saints wasn't quite as flawless as it was the week before. He threw for 231 yards and scored two touchdowns — one through the air, one on the ground — but he also threw an interception. The San Francisco defense bailed him out though, holding Saints quarterback Drew Brees to 267 passing yards and returning one of their two interceptions for a touchdown.

Week 13 (Dec. 2) at Edward Jones Dome: Rams 16, 49ers 13, OT

Three weeks ago, these two teams ended in a tie. This week, they almost did it again. Rams kicker Zuerlein tied the game as time expired in regulation, sending the 49ers and Rams to overtime for the second time this season. Neither team scored for the opening 14:34 of overtime, but Zuerlein avoided another tie with his 54-yard game-winning field goal with 26 seconds to play.

Week 14 (Dec. 9) at Candlestick Park: 49ers 27, Miami Dolphins 13

With Kaepernick still at quarterback, the 49ers turned to the ground game to defeat the Dolphins. Gore ran for 63 yards and a touchdown, and backup running back Anthony Dixon also scored a touchdown. Kaepernick finished the scoring in the win, scrambling for a 50-yard touchdown. He also completed 18 of 23 passes for 185 yards.

Week 15 (Dec. 16) at Gillette Stadium: 49ers 41, New England Patriots 34

Leading the Patriots, 31-3, with 10:21 remaining in the third quarter, it looked like the 49ers had all but clinched a win and a postseason berth. But the Patriots stormed back, scoring four unanswered touchdowns to tie the game at 31. The 49ers held on, though, scoring the next 10 points to capture a seven-point victory in Foxboro and secure their place in the playoffs.

Week 16 (Dec. 23) at CenturyLink Field: Seahawks 42, 49ers 13

The 49ers and Seahawks scored a combined 23 points in their first matchup this season. In the second game, they totaled 55. Seattle cruised past San Francisco, scoring the first 21 points of the game to take a commanding lead they would never relinquish. The 49ers didn't score their first — and only — touchdown of the game until there was 1:40 remaining.

Week 17 (Dec. 30) at Candlestick Park: 49ers 27, Cardinals 13

With the NFC West title on the line, the 49ers came through with a win. Crabtree was responsible for 172 of Kaepernick's 276 passing yards, catching eight passes and hauling in both of the quarterback's touchdown passes. Gore rushed for 68 yards and a touchdown, and the 49ers captured their second consecutive division crown.

NFC divisional round (Jan. 12) at Candlestick Park: 49ers 45, Packers 31

Move over Michael Vick. Kaepernick staked his claim at being the premier running quarterback in the NFL against the Packers, piling up an NFL-record 181 yards on the ground. He threw for two touchdowns and rushed for two more, accounting for 28 of the 49ers’ 45 points. Gore added 119 rushing yards and a score in the victory.

NFC championship (Jan. 20) at Georgia Dome: 49ers 28, Atlanta Falcons 24

By the start of the second quarter, it looked like the 49ers’ Super Bowl hopes were disappearing. Quarterback Matt Ryan and the Falcons opened up an early 17-point lead, and they took a 10-point advantage into halftime. But Gore and the 49ers defense brought San Francisco back into the game. Gore rushed for two second-half touchdowns and the defense shut out Atlanta after the break, sending the 49ers to the Super Bowl for the first time in 18 years.