There’s a downside to receiver Michael Crabtree’s career-best performance in the San Francisco 49ers’ 27-13 victory over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.
The 172 receiving yards and two touchdowns tossed his way by quarterback Colin Kaepernick may reveal just how one-dimensional the 49ers offense has become, hardly the image a Super Bowl contender wants to carry into the playoffs.
“I thought Michael and Kaepernick really got us going,” 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. “That was a great spark those two guys gave us. We have belief and confidence in a lot of guys.”
But that cast has shrunk in recent weeks due to injuries, making Sunday’s victory all that more vital. The win clinched a second consecutive NFC West title for the 49ers and about a half-an-hour later they secured the No. 2 seed in the NFC — and the first-round bye that comes with it — as the Minnesota Vikings edged the Green Bay Packers, 37-34.
The 49ers are slated to host the Divisional Playoff game at Candlestick Park Jan. 12 at 8 p.m. ET, a game that will be broadcast on FOX.
“I think the biggest thing is (to) get healthy,” Kaepernick said. “We’re going to have a little time off. A little time to rest and then go get ready.”
Receiver Mario Manningham suffered a season-ending knee injury a week ago in a 42-13 loss to the Seattle Seahawks. The 49ers have already lost receiver and returner Kyle Williams (ACL) and running back Kendall Hunter (Achilles) for the season.
“We have less options than we had at the beginning of the year,” 49ers center Jonathan Goodwin said. “Other teams know that. It’s nothing we haven’t had to deal with before.”
A week after suffering a concussion, tight end Vernon Davis was cleared on Saturday and had one reception for 5 yards in a limited role.
“Just having Vernon out there is helping the offense,” Gore said. “They have different looks with Vernon on the field. He is one of the best tight ends in the league (and) one of the fastest.”
Couple the injuries together with receiver Randy Moss not being a viable threat and Kaepernick almost had no choice but to throw Crabtree’s way. Kaepernick targeted Crabtree 13 times on 29 pass attempts (44.8 percent); Crabtree accounted for 62.3 percent of Kaepernick’s passing yardage.
“He’s a playmaker,” said Kaepernick, whose 276 yards passing set a career-high for the second-year pro. “You put the ball in his hands and he’s going to do something with it. We’re trying to put the ball in his hands to see what he can do.”
The first breakthrough — which came as the Cardinals led 6-0 — was a 49-yard pass play in the second quarter. Crabtree’s other TD was a 7-yard reception in the third quarter.
“My dude (Kaepernick) made it happen,” said Crabtree, who surpassed the 1,000-yard mark in a season for the first time. “I’m just going out there, running routes, catching the ball until I make a play.”
The 49ers offense could share more of the burden with All-Pro defensive lineman Justin Smith (partially torn triceps) injured and kicker David Akers struggling.
Smith was out for the second game in a row, but is expected to be back for the postseason. It’s not clear the same can be said for Akers, who missed two goals (40 and 44 yards) and has been among the league’s most inaccurate kickers this season.
“We’ll evaluate the position,” Harbaugh said. “It’s his job to make field goals.”
Crabtree said he’s ready for the increased load if it comes to it in a couple weeks.
His one reception for three yards was the lone catch by 49ers receivers in last season’s NFC title game loss, as quarterback Alex Smith — who lost the starting job in Week 9 this season after he missed time with a concussion — was forced to rely on Davis and Gore through the air.
“With how bad I did last year, in my opinion, I feel like I didn’t do what I was supposed to do,” Crabtree said. “I feel like I get another chance.”