SANTA CLARA, CALIF. — When the San Francisco 49ers beat the Seattle Seahawks on Dec. 8, their receiving combination of Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree combined for 10 catches and 133 receiving yards.
It was a different story in Week 2, when the Seahawks won, 29-3, and Boldin managed one catch for 7 yards — scrawny little numbers the Niners now attribute largely to Crabtree’s absence due to a torn Achilles tendon.
It wasn’t surprising that Crabtree missed the first three months of the season while recovering. The shock was that he worked his way back by the beginning of December.
“You just watched the mental toughness, the physical toughness over that six-month period,” coach Jim Harbaugh said. “And then when he got back on the field (I thought) ‘Wow, this is really going to be good for us.’”
Offensive coordinator Greg Roman admitted he wasn’t sure that Crabtree would return at all this season.
But the five-year veteran said that thought never crossed his mind.
“Not at all,” Crabtree said. “As soon as I got hurt, I asked the doctor how long it was going to take. He told me about five months. I didn’t want to tell anybody the dates. I just kept working hard, day by day, and we are here now.”
San Francisco went 6-4 over the 10 games Crabtree missed. They are 7-0 since his return. Over that stretch — which includes playoff wins at Green Bay and Carolina — he contributed 30 catches for 435 yards, and two 100-yard performances.
He also has made life considerably easier for Boldin.
“Yeah, you see a difference,” Boldin said. “I think every team plays you differently as opposed to not having Crab out there. He’s definitely a weapon that you have to account for. … It’s tough on defenses when you have two guys outside capable of having big games, and then you have (tight end Vernon Davis) inside matched up with linebackers. So, it gives defenses fits.”
That was the plan back in March when the Niners brought Boldin over from the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens.
“The thought of him and Michael playing together at receiver, I couldn’t be any more excited about that,” Roman said. “I’ve always felt like Anquan was … one of the best receivers in the National Football League. He’s a guy that I think when it’s all said and done, will be a strong Hall of Fame consideration.”
He certainly has produced in the postseason. Over an 11 year career he is 10-3 in playoffs, with two Super Bowl appearances, and that one Super Bowl ring. He is tied for the lead among active players with 12 postseason receptions of 25 yards or more. The player he is tied with is Davis.
Now another playoff appearance looms, and another chance for another Super Bowl, as the 49ers visit Seattle on Sunday for the NFC championship game.
Not surprisingly, the collision of a top-level receiving corps and the top-level secondary they’re about to face has brought out a little chatter, even before they put on the pads.
“I like (Boldin) as a competitor,” Seattle safety Earl Thomas said. “I like what he brings to their team. He’s a hard-nosed guy. I like that he’s blue-collar, and I’m ready for him. He’s a great blocker. He tried to cut me a couple of times, so we’ll meet each other again because I’m definitely going to find where he is. That’s just who he is.”
“It’s always been the way that I played the game,” he said. “I was always told if you don’t play the game all out, then you’re cheating yourself.”