Can wide receiver Michael Crabtree be a difference-maker vs. the Seahawks Sunday? (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
In the 49ers’ first game against the Seahawks, back in Week 2, the San Francisco stat sheet was ugly.
The 49ers turned the ball over five times in a 29-3 loss, committed 12 penalties for 121 yards and had control of the ball for just over 23 minutes – nearly 13 minutes less than the Seahawks.
The Niners’ passing game was particularly woeful, with quarterback Colin Kaepernick completing just 13-of-28 throws for 127 yards and three interceptions. Wide receiver Anquan Boldin was held to just one catch for 7 yards, and tight end Vernon Davis had only three for a grand total of 20 yards.
Said Kaepernick, after that September loss: “We’re not going to win games if I play like that.”
So as the 49ers prepare for the rematch Sunday afternoon against Seattle at Candlestick Park, why should the outcome be any different?
Seattle, at 11-1, is running away with the NFC West and is coming off a lopsided win over the Saints on “Monday Night Football.” The Seahawks rank No. 1 in the NFL in total defense and pass defense and lead the league in takeaways (27), and are No. 2 in turnover differential (plus-12).
Plus, the Seattle secondary was terrific in that first game against San Francisco, taking away Kaepernick’s receivers and smothering Boldin. The Seahawks’ All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman and All-Pro safety Earl Thomas lead a very skilled group.
Yet the 49ers believe this game can have a different outcome. San Francisco has the home field – where they’ve won the last three matchups with Seattle – and they’re coming off two straight victories in which the offense has shown much more life, particularly in the passing game.
Plus, the 49ers now have Michael Crabtree back as a starting wide receiver, and Crabtree could be a difference maker.
Now, the Seahawks can’t just focus on Boldin and dare the other wideouts to try to get free. Before Crabtree’s return last week – when he caught two passes for 68 yards – the rest of the team’s wide receiver corps had been mostly ineffective.
In a story by Austin Murphy for Sports Illustrated this week, one former 49ers defender told Murphy the team didn’t “have a single receiver that can get off press coverage” aside from Boldin.
Now, even though Crabtree isn’t back to 100 percent yet, he and Mario Manningham – who also wasn’t available for the first game – should force the Seahawks secondary to play a more straight-up scheme. Rookie Quinton Patton also will likely be activated for this Sunday's game. In theory, that should give more options to Kaepernick, including for Davis at tight end.
Without Crabtree before last week, the 49ers pass offense was far different than it was last season. Niners offensive coordinator Greg Roman had told SI’s Murphy in the preseason that without their No. 1 pass catcher, “We’re going to have to make the soup without that ingredient.”
Now, Crabtree is back. And the Niners believe he can add plenty of life to a passing game that has lacked the zip it had over the final half of 2012.
“You know, it’s about time he (Crabtree) gets double-teamed now,” Boldin said, joking with reporters after the victory over the Rams this past Sunday. He added that No. 15 “relieves pressure … frees you up. It’s good to have him back.”
Sunday, there will be plenty of observers across the NFL who will be eager to see if his return makes a difference.