(Eds: Updates with detail on touchdown streak, notes on practice report. With AP Photos.)By JANIE McCAULEYAP Sports Writer
Vernon Davis is giving opposing safeties fits. Whether it’s Davis hurdling over defenders, sprinting by them or easily out-leaping them in the end zone, nobody seems to be able to stop San Francisco’s speedy tight end.
He has produced one of the best stretches of his eight-year career down the stretch for the 49ers.
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The Atlanta Falcons certainly have a fresh memory of Davis’ spectacular day from last January’s NFC championship game.
Months later, with Atlanta coming to Candlestick Park on Monday night, Davis has caught touchdown passes in five straight games and will look for another dominant display against the Falcons. He caught a pair of touchdown passes and had five receptions total for 106 yards in that 28-24 victory that sent San Francisco back to the Super Bowl for the first time in 18 years.
”He’s the kind of tight end who blocks at the highest level, has speed of the highest level, catching ability, ability to get open,” coach Jim Harbaugh said Thursday. ”An all-tool tight end, which is rare.”
Davis’ streak is the longest by a 49ers player since Terrell Owens caught touchdown passes in eight straight games from Nov. 8-Dec. 27, 1998, and also a five-game TD stretch in 2001. The 29-year-old Davis needs one more touchdown catch to match his career high of 13 set in 2009.
With last week’s TD catch at Tampa Bay, Davis became the first tight end in NFL history to produce two 12-touchdown seasons.
That pretty 52-yard touchdown pass from Colin Kaepernick showed how well these two are working together in Kaepernick’s first full season as starter.
”He’s a big playmaker in our offense,” left tackle Joe Staley said of Davis. ”The coaches do a good job of drawing up plays for him and he delivers. That was a heck of a throw Colin had and a good job by Vernon to haul it in.”
Davis’ latest defensive victim was Buccaneers safety Mark Barron. Davis beat him and made a high catch with arms outstretched at the goal line to put San Francisco ahead 17-0 at halftime of an eventual 33-14 victory.
”Obviously, the special talents of both those guys on display in that one play. Vernon, the speed, the ability to track a football, extend for a catch, balance of keeping and getting the feet in bounds,” Harbaugh said. ”There’s many superlatives there. Colin, great accuracy and arm strength down the field, buying time, which he did a great deal in this ballgame, which was impressive on that play and others.”
The only thing that wasn’t picture-perfect on that one: Davis slammed right into the wall behind the end zone and briefly had the wind knocked out of him.
Staley joked, ”he needs to watch out for the wall next time.”
”The timing was perfect,” Davis said of the play. ”Just the way it was supposed to be and just the way we rehearsed it in practice. He pops back, keeps it high, launched it up in the air and he put it right where it was supposed to be.”
While Davis said late last season he and Kaepernick were still finding their timing, there’s no question they have it now – and have had for months. The chemistry of these two will be a big key to whether the Niners can make another run at the Super Bowl.
”I think you saw the same thing last year where there was clickage,” Harbaugh said. ”And they’re clicking again. Two great football players.”
Falcons coach Mike Smith puts Davis right up among the best at the position. At 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds, Davis presents a major mismatch.
”He has a different skill set in that he’s a burner,” Smith said. ”I can remember watching him at the combine run his 40 and he turned a lot of heads.”
Atlanta tight end Tony Gonzalez needs no convincing of Davis’ abilities. He has admired Davis from afar while steadily producing his own remarkable career, which will come to a close after the season.
”Vernon’s a great player, scores a lot of touchdowns,” Gonzalez said. ”He’s always impressed me since he’s come out with his athletic ability. It’s unparalleled.”
Notes: LG Mike Iupati, who has missed the past three games with a sprained left knee, participated in a limited role in practice. Harbaugh said Iupati is coming along well. … C Jonathan Goodwin was out of practice for what was called not injury related, while WR Mario Manningham sat out ill and with a tender knee.
AP Sports Writer Charles Odum in Atlanta contributed to this report.