The 49ers weren’t quite sure what they’d get out of Michael Crabtree this season.
When Crabtree tore his Achilles’ tendon in May workouts, he underwent surgery the next day and promised to return to the team in November.
But Achilles’ injuries are severe and wide receivers need to be explosive, and there was no telling how effective Crabtree would be.
Now four games into his comeback, Crabtree has erased all doubts. In games against the Rams, Seahawks, Bucs and Falcons, he has 16 catches for 255 yards and a touchdown, and in Monday night’s victory over the Falcons he played a key role.
Though linebacker NaVorro Bowman’s interception return and a nothing-but-runs fourth quarter drive for a touchdown justifiably captured the focus of 49ers fans in San Francisco’s 34-24 victory, it was Crabtree who helped ignite his team’s offense in the second half.
After the 49ers trailed 10-3 at the half, San Francisco’s offense got going in the third quarter to set the tone for a 31-point explosion.
On the 49ers’ first third-quarter possession, Crabtree’s 47-yard reception took his team to the Atlanta 31-yard line. Two plays later, quarterback Colin Kaepernick found Crabtree again for 19 yards to the Falcons’ 10. On the next play, Kaepernick connected with Anquan Boldin for a touchdown to tie the game.
On the Niners’ next drive, Kaepernick connected with Crabtree for gains of 11 and 22 yards to help set up a Phil Dawson field goal.
For the night, Crabtree had five catches for a team-best 102 yards, the first time this season he’s had a 100-yard game.
His presence has helped open up the offense, forcing defenses to spread their attention. They now have to worry about the running attack and a trio of receivers in Boldin, Crabtree and Vernon Davis. But Crabtree isn’t just a decoy. He may not be at 100 percent, but it looks as if he’s at about 95.
“He’s moving pretty good out there right now,” teammate Anthony Dixon told Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee.
The 47-yard reception on the 49ers’ first second-half drive seemed to be the play that opened the door for San Francisco’s big half.
“Good play, good job by Kap trusting me,” Crabtree told Barrows. “We needed to make a play. I can’t really say too much about that. I was just trying to make a play.”
As the NFL.com’s Bucky Brooks noted last week, Crabtree has been the offensive catalyst to the 49ers’ resurgence. Five straight victories – four with him in the lineup – have helped the team get to 11-4, earn a playoff berth and be in a position with a win over the 10-5 Cardinals in Arizona this Sunday to earn a possible postseason home game.
Brooks wrote that without Crabtree as a perimeter threat, the 49ers were much easier to defend.
“That has certainly changed since Crabtree’s return,” Brooks wrote. “He’s opened up the field with his presence out wide, emerging as a bit of a deep threat in spread formations. This has helped Kaepernick improve his third-down efficiency and made the 49ers tougher to defend in critical situations.”
Crabtree certainly proved that again in Monday night’s victory over Atlanta.