There are many noises on a football field.

Last Sunday, when 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick threw an interception in Green Bay -- and then went on to viciously tackle the Packer who picked off the ball -- this was the noise made by 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh:

" . . . . . . . . . !!!! . . . . . . . ."

(That's my best attempt to portray the sound of a man inhaling quickly and shutting his mouth.)

"Yeah, definitely I was holding my breath a little bit," Harbaugh said Wednesday as he spoke of that holy-cow-our-quarterback-might-break-himself-in-half-right-here-right-now moment.

"But he's a football player making a play, reacting," Harbaugh continued. "Dodged a bullet, would be my thought now. I'm glad we did."

And across Northern California, thousands of 49ers fans sprained their necks, nodding in violent agreement.

For one thing, I think we can all agree that if Kaepernick had not dodged the bullet on that first-half play Sunday, the 49ers likely would not be in position to dodge more hazards this weekend in Charlotte against the Carolina Panthers. The 49ers can't possibly return to the Super Bowl without an upright and functional Kaepernick.

For another thing, Kaepernick's vicious tackling technique, leading with his upper body, was more evidence that his mentality changes in January, based on his playoff performances so far. In the postseason, he seems to eagerly seek out contact -- particularly when using his feet on scrambles around the edge. The perception is that the coaches give him more of a green light to use his legs and go for it.


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Am I correct? Is that perception myth or fact?

"I guess it's really week to week," Kaepernick said Wednesday. "It depends what teams are giving us."

The last time he played Carolina, the Panthers gave him almost nothing. That was in early November. In a 10-9 Carolina victory, the Panthers sacked Kaepernick six times -- often by rushing just four defenders. He did not even record one official scramble, though he did gain 16 yards on one called quarterback run. He had his fewest passing yards (91) of the season, completing 11 of 22 attempts with one interception.

Was his miserable game that afternoon more of his fault, or just a great Panthers defensive effort?

"It was me," Kaepernick said.

Sometimes it can be hard to discern in the media gaggle that Kaepernick conducts once a week, but he is definitely maturing as an NFL player. He's even getting a little looser with reporters and opening up a bit more.

For instance? Kaepernick admitted Wednesday that he feels a little extra motivation when he plays Carolina because Panthers quarterback Cam Newton was picked first overall in the 2011 college draft. Kaepernick was selected by the 49ers in the second round, 36th overall.

"It's not something I'll forget," Kaepernick said.

The two quarterbacks, both with fleet feet, do have "some similarities," Kaepernick said. But one edge he may have over Newton this week is playoff experience. This will be Kaepernick's fifth postseason start. It will be Newton's first.

All the more reason for Kaepernick to stay in one piece throughout the game -- and avoid more dangerous tackles. The best way to do so, of course, is to throw no interceptions. But when that occurred last Sunday, he was not concerned about putting his body in harm's way.

"When I'm on the field, I'm not worried about my health," Kaepernick said. "I'm worried about trying to win the game."

So when's the last time he made a tackle?

"Sunday," he said, laughing.

Before that?

"I'm not sure." And how would he assess his tackling form on the play? Kaepernick closed in quickly on Green Bay's Tramon Williams as he ran toward the sideline. The 49ers quarterback then lowered his right (throwing!) shoulder and made hard contact. Helmets didn't quite collide. But it was close.

"He snuck me a little bit," Kaepernick said of Williams. "I thought he was going to try and hit the sidelines. So he got under me a little bit. Wish I could have that back."

Other than the interception, Kaepernick's biggest hiccup in Green Bay occurred when he was forced to take a timeout on the first play of the second half because he looked down to see his wristband with plays written on it -- and saw his bare arm instead. He had forgotten to put it on his arm when he jogged onto the field.

"I felt dumb for leaving it on the sideline," Kaepernick said. "I took it off during halftime and left it in my locker."

Luckily, he didn't need that extra timeout at game's end. So it was all good. And after winning in Green Bay, the 49ers appear to be a loose group.

In fact, things were so loose before Wednesday's practice, Kaepernick's interview session concluded with an impromptu "Dunk Cam" moment. And it nearly claimed me as an innocent victim.

The scene: As Kaepernick answered his final group interview question, rookie Luke Marquardt held up a large garbage can behind my head. Offensive lineman Alex Boone charged at us, lifting all 6-foot-8 and 300 pounds of himself into the air, then reached his massive right arm over both Kaepernick and me, jamming a ball into the garbage can.

I want it noted that I did not flinch. I dodged a bullet. So did Kaepernick. It would be very good for the 49ers if that continues Sunday.

Contact Mark Purdy at mpurdy@mercurynews.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/MercPurdy.

SUNDAY'S GAME
49ers (13-4) at Carolina (12-4), 10:05 a.m. FOX

INSIDE
  • Kaepernick faults himself for earlier loss to Panthers. PAGE 3
  • Rivera was influenced by his college coach Joe Kapp. PAGE 3