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Crabtree, Boldin Become Formidable Tandem

Posted Jan 17, 2014

Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin have become a top-flight pass-catching tandem for the San Francisco 49ers.

Some of the standouts in San Francisco’s locker room were skeptical when Anquan Boldin was acquired via trade in March. After all, the 11-year veteran receiver helped the Baltimore Ravens beat the 49ers in the Super Bowl.

Michael Crabtree, however, had no issue with it whatsoever.

“I got some help,” said the 49ers play-making wideout when asked about his reaction to the Boldin trade. "I am pretty much the only receiver that is back from last year. So that was a plus for us.”

Now that Crabtree has recovered from a torn Achilles tendon and is displaying his Pro Bowl-caliber play, the 49ers have a formidable pass-catching duo firing on all cylinders heading into Sunday’s NFC Championship game in Seattle.

Greg Roman has noticed a sizable difference with how opponents have covered San Francisco’s offense ever since Crabtree returned to the team seven consecutive wins ago.

“I think people have to account for him and bottom line is, he’s going to make plays,” Roman, the 49ers third-year play-caller, said of Crabtree. “A great, wise coach once told me, ‘You either make plays or you don’t,’ and he makes plays.

“I think you’re talking about balancing out the field and forcing the defense to play a balanced defense.”

Seattle’s defense ranked No. 1 in pass defense in the regular season and had a solid showing in last week’s win over the New Orleans Saints.

Come Sunday, the Seahawks “Legion of Boom” defensive back group will have to limit the production of Crabtree and Boldin who both have 11 receptions apiece in the 2013 postseason.

Neither receiver has reached the end zone in wins over Green Bay and Carolina, but the tandem has produced 16 first-down receptions in two games.

So how much better is the 49ers passing attack with a healthy Crabtree?

“I don’t know the exact amount,” Jim Harbaugh said. “But better, yes. Significantly.”

Crabtree called his return to the field a work in progress, but he stressed that he’s “blessed” to be back with the 49ers after a late-May injury that threatened to sideline his fifth season in San Francisco.

Crabtree continued to work behind the scenes and has sparked the 49ers offense ever since he came back. He never spoke publically about his return goals. He knew it would take five months in the best-case scenario to return to the 49ers. Crabtree was back in action six months after the injury and hauled in a 60-yard pass in his Dec. 1 season debut.

From there, Crabtree has continued to impress his head coach and teammates.

“Well documented what we think of him as a football player,” Harbaugh said earlier this week. “Outstanding in terms of all the things you want a receiver to be outstanding at. As we’ve said, who catches the ball better than Michael Crabtree? It’s A-plus, plus. And not just the low-hanging fruit of getting open and catching passes, but what he brings to our team in terms of blocking in the run game and toughness, and competitiveness. Just a real football player.”

Harbaugh also something special out of Crabtree in his quest to return to the field.

“(I’m) thankful that he went through the grueling rehab, went through the toughness, and thankful that he was good,” Harbaugh explained. “And thought that there would be a gap from where he was this year as to (where he was) before he got hurt. Thinking that maybe there were some balls he wouldn’t get to, maybe some catches he wouldn’t make, some tackles he wouldn’t break, some separation that he wouldn’t gain after coming back from a torn Achilles tendon. But, it was minor.

“You couldn’t really even tell the difference the first couple weeks, and then to where it is now. It’s as good or better. And what kind of human being is able to do that. It’s so rare. I can’t even compare it to anything else that I’ve ever seen."

Crabtree most recently showed his unique athletic ability by going up high for a 20-yard reception against the Panthers.

That moment proved that Crabtree’s Achilles was not slowing him down from making explosive, game-changing plays.

“I am feeling good,” Crabtree said. “Wherever the ball is at on the field, I am just trying to make the catch, make the play.”

Now that San Francisco has a pair of top-flight receivers on each side of the field, the offensive attack can spread the ball all over the field.

“Yeah, that was the vision going in, (Crabtree) on one side, me on the other Vernon (Davis) working the middle of the field,” Boldin said of the surging passing attack. “It's tough on defenses when you have two guys outside capable of having big games, and then you have Vernon inside matched up with linebackers. So, it gives defenses fits.”

Boldin is loving the way defenses have to play the 49ers these days.

“You see a difference,” the veteran 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. So, we get different looks now.”

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