GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The 49ers earned their coldest playoff victory in history Sunday, 23-20, over the Green Bay Packers. And it was amazing how fast the weather changed.
When 49ers placekicker Phil Dawson launched the ball on the last play of the game, the temperature was 4 degrees, with a wind chill of minus-13.
But when Dawson's kick went through the uprights for the winning three points with "00:00" showing on the scoreboard clock, the forecast improved to 100 percent chance of advancing -- with the thermometer showing a balmy 58 degrees.
That's the forecasted temperature this Sunday in Charlotte, N.C., where the 49ers will face the Carolina Panthers in the second round of the NFL playoffs.
"You didn't think we were going to pull it out, did you?" asked 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh afterward in his session with the media.
Well, to be honest, there were several glacial moments of doubt.
The 49ers completely dominated play for much of the game but kept kicking field goals rather than scoring touchdowns. It was only a matter of time before Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers finally began escaping the pass rush and finding his targets. When he did, the Packers took a 17-13 lead early in the fourth quarter.
As it turned out, however, this simply provided the 49ers a chance to show their moxie on a day fit for neither man nor middle linebacker.
First, the 49ers went ahead, 20-17, on a 28-yard pass from quarterback Colin Kaepernick to tight end Vernon Davis. Then, more doubt arrived when the Packers rallied to tie the game at 20. But in an epic conclusion, the 49ers offense used up the last 5:06, driving 65 yards to set up Dawson's winning kick.
After which everybody went inside to drink hot cocoa around a fireplace and snuggle with newborn puppies.
OK, not really. But at least some players were honest enough to show their nonmanly side and admit they did struggle to cope with some of the most frigid conditions imaginable.
"I'm not going to lie to you," said 49ers defensive captain Patrick Willis. "It got pretty cold. And the second half was a lot colder than the first half. But like I said earlier in the week, there would be no better way to warm up than to get this 'W.' And I can already start to feel myself warm up a little bit."
The kickoff temperature was 5 degrees, making it the seventh-coldest game ever at Lambeau Field. Give full marks to both the 49ers and Packers for giving us a classic game that we'll all be watching in slow motion, accompanied by dramatic music, on NFL Films TV specials for years and years.
"A lot of guys sucked it up today," Harbaugh said. "A lot of tough guys."
None tougher than Kaepernick, who threw an early interception and then made the tackle to end the play with a violent collision. Kaepernick also had issues getting off some plays from scrimmage -- even forgetting his wristband with the play calls on it to start the second half -- before settling in to provide the best clutch performance of his young career.
"I've played in cold-weather games before," Kaepernick said when asked about the conditions. "And I feel like it's more mental than anything."
With him on Sunday, it seemed to be more about the legs than anything. In addition to his 227 yards passing, Kaepernick rushed the ball seven times for 98 yards, including a crucial 11-yard gain on the last drive.
One man's theory: Kaepernick was so prolific with his rushing game Sunday on Lambeau Field's turf because he learned to walk and skitter across the frozen tundra as a toddler in Fond du Lac, Wis., about 75 miles from here. His parents moved from there to California when he was 4 years old. So this was a return to his running roots.
"I don't know about that -- you'll have to ask my parents," Kaepernick said when the theory was floated past him. "I don't think I was big enough to play in the cold out here."
He certainly looked at home under the brutal conditions. Kaepernick didn't even wear long sleeves, throwing the ball with bare arms and a bare throwing hand -- even though someone noted to him that as a college player at Nevada, he often did wear long sleeves.
"In Nevada, we didn't have jackets, beanies or heaters," Kaepernick explained.
That might have been a plus. Offensive lineman Joe Staley said that when he sat on the 49ers' heated sideline benches between series, he actually began perspiring. But the perspiration turned to clammy sweat and then ice when the offensive unit returned to the field.
Other 49ers made their own adjustments, wearing multiple layers of undergarments or rubbing hot balm on their bodies. Running back Frank Gore used special cleats to navigate Lambeau's dead-grass turf. Davis, who made a wickedly strong grab on his TD reception, tested out things during pregame warm-ups and decided to stick with the gloves he wears in normal weather. But the cold was always on his mind.
"You can't think like that, though," Davis said. "It's like everything else. You have to adapt."
Alex Boone, the offensive guard, said there were also no real difficulties gaining traction on the field, which, as bad as it looked, was helped by warming coils planted slightly below the surface.
"It was just dirt," said Boone. "But it was good. No problem."
Harbaugh did confess that the situation affected a few of his coaching decisions, particularly on whether to go for a first down, punt or try field goals inside the Packers' 40-yard line, because footballs with frozen leather do not travel as far. But mostly, he was proud of his men.
"It's mind over matter in this situation," a giddy Harbaugh said in the locker room.
And now, if you don't mind, the 49ers will try to matter some more. With less frostbite.