Crabtree continues to make big strides in comeback

Considering the career season he produced a year ago, Michael

Crabtree hesitates to say he is completely back to his former

playmaking self only seven months after Achilles tendon

surgery.

”I’m headed that direction,” Crabtree said Thursday. ”I don’t

really think about it, I just count my blessings and keep it

going.”

There’s no arguing he has made big gains in his contributions

each week in what has been a remarkable comeback the past four

games with San Francisco.

After a rigorous recovery following the procedure to repair his

torn right Achilles tendon in May, Crabtree realizes he could be

far worse off if the injury didn’t heal as well as it did. Things

have gone about as smoothly as he could have imagined given the

severity.

”I’m just blessed to be out there,” he said. ”I’m just out

there playing, thankful to be back on the field.”

It shows. He has returned to being the jokester with teammates

in the locker room, where Crabtree participates in the occasional

game of mini basketball with the guys while razzing anyone he can

at every chance.

The 26-year-old Crabtree has 16 catches for 255 yards and a

touchdown, making five receptions in each of the past two games to

help the Niners (11-4) run their winning streak to five heading

into the final regular-season game Sunday at Arizona (10-5).

”Nothing surprises me with him. He’s an amazing player, he

works hard,” quarterback Colin Kaepernick said. ”We knew when he

came back he’d be ready to play.”

A man of few words completely by his own design, Crabtree has

long let his outspoken teammates be more vocal for the franchise as

he prefers to make any statements on the field. If San Francisco is

going to return to the Super Bowl after coming so close last

season, Crabtree will surely have an important hand in getting the

49ers there.

”When you add one of your best players back to the offense it’s

going to impact anybody,” offensive coordinator Greg Roman

said.

The fifth-year wideout, the Niners’ 10th overall pick out of

Texas Tech in the 2009 draft, tore his right Achilles tendon during

7-on-7 drills in an organized team activity May 21, then had

surgery. The 49ers said from the beginning they thought he would be

back this year.

Crabtree emerged as Kaepernick’s top target last year and had

career bests of 85 receptions for 1,105 yards and nine touchdowns.

They have quickly found their rhythm again.

Crabtree had a 60-yard catch in his first game back against St.

Louis on Dec. 1. Then came a 47-yarder in which he made a nice

adjustment on an underthrown ball in the third quarter in Monday

night’s 34-24 victory against Atlanta, the likely last game at

Candlestick Park.

Crabtree also had receptions of 22 yards and 11 yards in the

next series on the way to 102 yards receiving.

This year, he has a talented complement at the other wide

receiver spot in Anquan Boldin – not to mention tight end Vernon

Davis with 12 touchdowns.

”Defenses play us honest, that’s the only thing that’s really

changed for us,” Kaepernick said of having his offense back

intact.

Arizona’s defense knows it will have a different dynamic to deal

with this weekend given San Francisco’s improved passing

attack.

”I don’t see the same guy but he’s getting close,” Cardinals

coach Bruce Arians said of Crabtree.

The 49ers will look for more drives like the 89-yard, 18-play

sequence they put together at the start of the fourth quarter in a

32-20 Week 6 win over the Cardinals. That drive took up 9 minutes,

32 seconds, getting the clock down to 6:35 remaining.

For Crabtree, a different series is still plenty fresh.

Kaepernick threw incomplete on three straight passes from the 5

intended for Crabtree in the waning moments of a 34-31 Super Bowl

loss.

He will soon get another chance in the playoffs.

”I’m just thankful to be out there playing football,” Crabtree

said. ”I just go game to game. As long as I’m winning, I’m

good.”

Notes: S Donte Whitner won’t be fined for his second-quarter

personal foul for a hard hit to Steven Jackson’s upper body. That

marked Whitner’s fourth such penalty this season, but he notes he

hasn’t paid anything – and even apparently won an appeal for an

earlier $21,000 fine from a Week 4 hit on Rams wide receiver Chris

Givens, though the league never called. He is sticking to his style

as the way the game ”is supposed to be played. Even if it looks

bad, it’s not bad,” Whitner said. ”It’s shoulder. It’s not

launching. It’s not using the crown of my helmet.”… LG Mike

Iupati said he came out of the game OK after returning from a

three-game absence because of a left knee sprain.

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org