Until Sunday, Quinton Patton’s rookie season rated a big zero.
Until he made a big run on a reverse and caught two passes in the final regular-season game – one that led to the game-winning field goal – the 49ers’ fourth-round draft pick had made exactly one catch for zero yards in 2013. Plus, a broken foot in September had taken away his chance to play, just when he’d earned a starting spot.
But after breaking through against the Cardinals, Patton now has a chance to play a big role in the 49ers’ opening playoff game Sunday against the Green Bay Packers. And his opportunities may continue on through the playoffs (should the 49ers advance) and into the 2014 season.
Patton, who missed 10 weeks of this season, had two catches for 34 yards in the win over the Cardinals, including the 29-yarder at the end of the game that was a spectacular, leaping grab vs. cornerback Antoine Cason.
After the game, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick said he knew he was going to go to Patton because he liked the matchup.
“It was press coverage over there, we had a double move on, I liked the matchup and there was no safety on that side of the field,” Kaepernick told Cam Inman of the Bay Area News Group. “I thought I’d give him a chance. He’s shown that he can go up and make those plays in practice, so he came up with it and it was huge for us.”
With Mario Manningham now sidelined by injury, Patton has earned the chance to be the team’s third wide receiver. Niners head coach Jim Harbaugh says Patton worked hard in practice to earn the trust of Kaepernick, fellow wideout Anquan Boldin – who gave him a pep talk just before his big catch Sunday -- and his coaches.
“To come back and practice and work the way he’s done has been really good to see and then to make the impact in the ballgame that he made yesterday, just very excited for him and excited for our team that way,” Harbaugh said Monday in his news conference. “He had a nice run on the reverse. I love the way he cut up inside, got his head down and just tried to get every yard that was blocked for. The big catch at the end was a great play. The ball he caught on third down was a tough, contested catch as well. He makes two really good catches, both contested, highly contested. And then on Anquan’s long run that set up a touchdown in the first quarter, Quinton had a wonderful block. Came from the opposite side of the field and really sprang Anquan for the big yardage. So, I was really excited to see that.”
Harbaugh admitted that one of the things he’s liked best about Patton, who was a standout at Louisiana Tech, is the fact he’s a competitor, whether he’s going after a pass or blocking for someone else. He also likes that Patton is open to new ideas and input from teammates such as Boldin and his coaching staff.
“He’s open to being good,” said Harbaugh. “Shows you that he wants to be good. Shows you he has a desire to be the best like Anquan.”
The 49ers now have a foursome of receivers that Kaepernick can put his trust in, with wide receivers Boldin, Michael Crabtree and Patton and tight end Vernon Davis.
With the Packers sure to pay a lot of attention to Boldin – who caught 13 passes against them in the season opener – Kaepernick should be able to spread the ball around. On Sunday at Lambeau Field, Patton could be in line to match or exceed his regular-season total of three catches.
Wrote Bill Williamson, who covers the 49ers for ESPN.com: “With Mario Manningham on injured reserve, Patton has a chance to establish himself as a reliable No. 3 receiver for the postseason and beyond. If Patton plays well in the playoffs, it will go a long way to giving the 49ers’ coaching staff confidence in him going into his second season.”