The San Francisco 49ers will be playing in the NFC Championship Game for the second year in a row. In last year’s competition, the Niners fell to the New York Giants in overtime following multiple fumbles by punt returner Kyle Williams.
San Francisco was dominant on defense last season, but lacked dynamic play on the offensive side of the ball. They spent the offseason loading their roster with offensive players of multiple skill-sets that could help them make that extra push for the Super Bowl. Veterans like Randy Moss, Mario Manningham, and Brandon Jacobs were brought in, while receiver AJ Jenkins and running back LaMichael James were drafted.
These five players were supposed to be enough to make San Francisco’s offense a major threat in all aspects. However, the rookies were rarely given an opportunity to suit up and the free-agent signings battled injuries.
The 49ers were still able to transform their offense into a unit that all defenses should fear. When Alex Smith was concussed in a tie to the St. Louis Rams on November 11, second-year quarterback Colin Kaepernick was put into action.
Kaepernick made his first career start a week later on Monday Night Football against the Chicago Bears and their nearly impenetrable defense. Kaep and the 49ers dominated the then 7-2 Bears in a 32-7 blowout.
This helped Kaepernick earn the starting job for the next game when Smith was cleared to play, and for the remainder of the season. He gave the 49ers’ offense just what they needed: mobility at the quarterback position. His record as a starter so far is 6-2, with big wins over the Patriots in New England and the Green Bay Packers in Saturday night's divisional playoff game.
In his first playoff appearance, Kaepernick totaled 444 yards and four touchdowns. His 181 rushing yards were a record for a quarterback in any game, not just postseason competition.
While Kaepernick stole the show, former Oregon Ducks running back LaMichael James managed to contribute to the victory. His 21 yards on three rushes, a seven-yard catch and 23 yards on the opening kickoff are stats that should not be bragged about.
However, he was still able to make an impact when not touching the ball. His super-speed and knack for finding the smallest of holes to run through required Green Bay’s defense to pay attention to him whenever he was on the field.
This was shown in a play that swung all momentum the Niners way and changed the fate of the game. After the Packers tied things up 24-24 a few minutes into the second half, Colin Kaepernick answered right back with a 56-yard touchdown run on the third play of the 49ers drive. His run started with a fake handoff to James. The defenders put all of their attention on No. 23, which allowed Kaepernick to break away with the score. San Francisco led for the rest of the game.
Even though LaMichael James has not had the same value of importance to the 49ers as he did to Oregon, he can still be a game changer. The Atlanta Falcons will put all of their concentration on Kaepernick in next week’s NFC Championship Game, which will make James even more of an asset to the 49ers offense.
Regardless of what happens at the Georgia Dome, LaMichael James has proven that he can make a major impact at the NFL level despite his size and will only continue to improve with San Francisco.