SAN FRANCISCO — Colin Kaepernick did the passing and running, and Aaron Rodgers just couldn’t keep up.
Kaepernick outplayed the reigning NFL MVP and former Super Bowl champion in one sensational, record-setting playoff debut and led San Francisco right back to the NFC championship game with a 45-31 win over the Green Bay Packers in an NFC divisional game Saturday night.
Kaepernick rushed for a quarterback playoff record 181 yards and two touchdowns and threw two scoring passes to Michael Crabtree. Next up for the Niners: a game on Jan. 20 for a spot in the Super Bowl, against the winner of Sunday’s game between the Seattle Seahawks and Falcons at Atlanta.
‘‘It feels good. We’re one step closer to where we want to be,’’ Kaepernick said. ‘‘I feel like I had a lot to prove. A lot of people doubted my ability to lead this team.’’
And what a playoff debut it was by the second-year pro making just his eighth NFL start. No doubting Jim Harbaugh’s big midseason gamble switching quarterbacks now.
Rodgers never got in synch for the Packers (12-6), finishing 26 of 39 for 257 yards with two touchdowns.
Kaepernick ran for scores of 20 and 56 yards on the way to topping the rushing mark of 119 yards set by Michael Vick in 2005 against St. Louis. Crabtree caught TD passes of 12 and 20 yards in the second quarter and wound up with nine receptions and 119 yards for the Niners (12-4-1).
‘‘We just didn’t have an answer,’’ linebacker A.J. Hawk said. ‘‘We couldn’t find a way to get off the field on third down. We couldn’t find a way to get off the field ever, really. He did a great job if he pulled it down to run. On passing plays, he did a good job of getting it down field. Also, when they were running that option play, we couldn’t get it stopped.’’
San Francisco had 579 total yards with 323 on the ground, scoring its third-most points in the franchise’s playoff history.
‘‘Our offensive line did an amazing job today,’’ Kaepernick said. ‘‘They shut everybody down inside. Our receivers, our tight ends, blocked great outside, and our running backs were running hard, so it made it easier on me.’’
Frank Gore and Anthony Dixon each added 2-yard TD runs in the fourth quarter for the No. 2-seed NFC West champs, slim favorites on their home field in a rematch of Week 1. They added to their big night by setting a franchise postseason record for yards rushing, 119 of those by Gore to complement Kaepernick.
Rodgers, the former Cal star passed up by San Francisco with the No. 1 pick in the 2005 draft, never got going.
And it was another early exit for the Packers, who lost in the divisional playoffs to the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants a year ago.
San Francisco advanced to back-to-back NFC title games for the first time since reaching three in a row following the 1992-94 seasons, with 1994 their last trip to the Super Bowl.
With the sold-out crowd at Candlestick Park waving red flags reading ‘‘Quest for Six’’ — a sixth Super Bowl title, that is — Kaepernick did his part and then some to deliver in the first key step. Even after an early interception that was returned for a touchdown by Sam Shields that gave Green Bay all the momentum in a hostile road stadium.
‘‘He does a great job of responding,’’ Harbaugh said. ‘‘He has done that any time there has been an interception he has thrown, a safety or a turnover, he’s responded with a scoring drive. So far he’s shown that he’s got that ability to come back.’’
Kaepernick topped Vick’s mark with the 56-yard keeper on an option play in the third quarter. That gave Kaepernick 163 yards on 12 carries, also setting a 49ers franchise record for the postseason.
‘‘You can’t let him out of there,’’ defensive back Charles Woodson said. ‘‘It’s that simple, it seems. You get good rushes on a guy like that and he finds that one hole, that one gap. When he takes off, he’s out of there.’’
David Akers kicked a 36-yard field goal moments before halftime to give San Francisco a 24-21 lead at intermission after Green Bay tried to ice the struggling veteran by calling timeout before his kick.
Mason Crosby’s 31-yard field goal tied the game at 24 midway through the third quarter, then Kaepernick took over again. San Francisco’s defense handled the rest.