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Michael Crabtree Converts in the Clutch

Posted Sep 16, 2012

The San Francisco 49ers needed to run out the clock, and if possible, score points to ensure a comfortable margin of victory. The 49ers were in position to do just that leading by eight points with nine minutes and change left in Sunday’s nationally televised contest against the visiting Detroit Lions.

So what did San Francisco do to ensure the clock would run down and the team would add to the lead? Find Michael Crabtree on third down, and find him repeatedly.

The fourth-year wideout converted three of the team’s four, third-down conversions on Sunday; all of them came on the final drive. Because of Crabtree’s trifecta of third-down conversions on a key drive, the 49ers were able to hold off the Lions 27-19 in a matchup of 2011 playoff teams.

Alex Smith completed three of his 20 completions to Crabtree on San Francisco’s final scoring drive; all of them moved the chains in a critical juncture of the game.

But it wasn’t just Crabtree’s hands that impressed; it was the determination in which the young receiver lowered his head to pick up tough yards.

“Crabtree’s a big-time player, he makes big-time plays,” left tackle Joe Staley said. “That’s what we expect out of him and he delivered. He’s a great player, really glad he’s on our team.”

In total, the leading 49ers wideout of 2011,led the way again Sunday night with six catches for 67 yards.

“It’s football,” Crabtree said of one of his best outings in his 49ers career. “I’m just doing whatever it takes to win.”

Jim Harbaugh praised his team’s toughness in a hard-fought game. He also pointed out that Crabtree typified the gritty performance.

“Just sucking it up,” Harbaugh explained. “Getting those first downs, physical run after the catch.”

It was almost like Crabtree continued to out-will and out-skill Detroit defenders in the game’s closing moments.

On third-and-seven from the 49ers 24-yard line, Smith completed a 7-yard strike to Crabtree for a first-down. Three players later, faced with a third-and-14 from their own 27-yard, Smith completed a pass to Crabtree for a gain of 16. For the third first-down hookup, Smith completed an 11-yard pass to the fourth-year wideout to move the chains.

Safe to say, the 49ers were thoroughly impressed with the way Crabtree lowered his head and picked up the hard-earned yards.

“I know last game we saw him do something like that,” 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis said, “I made it known to him, I was like, ‘Crab, that’s the way a receiver runs the ball in traffic.’”

As a result of Crabtree’s three clutch catches, Smith went on to complete his second touchdown of the day, a 23-yard pass to Vernon Davis to put the 49ers up 27-12. Detroit added a late touchdown to make it an eight-point game, but Kyle Williams’ onside kick recovery and three Smith kneel-downs preserved a home-opening win.

Despite Crabtree’s late-game heroics, the young wideout found room for improvement following the game.

Crabtree dropped a key third-down pass in the first half and said it stuck with him afterwards.

“I feel like I need to catch every pass,” Crabtree said on a night where the 49ers picked up 24 first downs. “The one drop, it’s still in my mind. So, every time you’re talking about catching the ball, I’m thinking about that drop.”

Teammates won’t give Crabtree any grief for the dropped pass. They appreciate all his efforts in a key, early season win.

“Michael all night, I think every time his number was called, was there and delivered, consistently,” Smith said. “He’s been like that, especially the last two weeks and going into last year – really just a consistent player.”

It was a fitting performance for Crabtree considering his presence graced the team’s Gameday Magazine with a story titled, “Sure-Handed.”

The young 49ers wideout was sure-handed for most of Sunday night, leaving many to believe San Francisco’s passing game is just scratching the surface of what it can become.

Crabtree shared a message along those lines to his teammates this week, when asked to share words to the team on his 25th birthday on Friday.

“We know what our defense is going to give us every week,” explained offensive co-captain Frank Gore, “they play hard and they play great together. Like (Crabtree said to the team this week), we just needed to match it.

“If we come out and match them, we feel like we’ll be a dangerous team in the NFL.”

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