Tuesday, January 15, 2013
Signs of life from 49ers' Vernon Davis?
By Mike Sando
Tight end Vernon Davis loves playing for a winner after losing too frequently early in his career with the San Francisco 49ers.
At age 28, Davis is mature enough to understand team success matters more than individual opportunities.
The 49ers are one victory away from their first Super Bowl since the 1994 season. Now is not the time for anyone to complain about a dramatic reduction in pass targets.
But if two big plays against Green Bay in the divisional round signal a statistical revival for the 2009 Pro Bowl choice, the smile on Davis' face will only grow wider.
Davis caught six passes over the 49ers' final six regular-season games. As the first chart shows, his receiving production plummeted from the previous two seasons. And as the second chart shows, Davis' production over the 49ers' final six games suggested something systemic at work.
A quarterback change played a role. Michael Crabtree's development is worth noting, too.
As the 49ers improve and diversify their offense, it stands to reason they'll be less reliant on any one player. Davis arguably accounted for a disproportionate amount of the production previously.
But when Davis caught 10 passes for 292 yards and four touchdowns in two playoff games last season, the 49ers' coaches pointed to Davis' increasing mastery of a new offensive system. Davis had four touchdown receptions in the 49ers' first three games this season. Expectations were high. Davis then had one TD the rest of the way.
But after a slow finish to the 2012 regular season, Davis accounted for plays totaling 49 yards during a critical eight-play, 93-yard touchdown drive against the Packers. That drive turned a 31-24 lead into a 38-24 cushion early in the fourth quarter. The 49ers won, 45-31.
Afterward, Davis said he thought he would have scored on the play during the drive when Green Bay's Tramon Williams held him. Davis followed up that one with a 44-yard reception to the Green Bay 15-yard line.
"The coaches are calling my number, but the plays just don't come open," Davis said in the locker room Saturday night when asked to explain his diminished production overall. "We look at film. They change it up when they play us. They called my number probably five or six times tonight and none of them worked, or maybe one of them did. But all of them should have been big."
Davis' streak of games with at least one reception ended at 58 this season. He had another zero-catch game subsequently. He's convinced opponents have gone out of their way to stop him, perhaps in response to Davis' record-setting playoff production.
"The second snap of the game, my number got called but they sat on it and set outside and it was just not there," Davis said following the Green Bay game.
The extra attention on Davis could be freeing up teammates.
"The route 'Crab' scored on, the first one when he came underneath, I was supposed go out and Crab comes inside," Davis said. "It all works hand in hand. I'm not mad at that at all. If I'm on the field and they are doubling me and leaving someone open, I can have that all day."
Crabtree finished the Green Bay game with nine receptions for 119 yards and two touchdowns. Perhaps the Atlanta Falcons will funnel extra resources Crabtree's way in the NFC Championship Game. The Falcons loaded up to stop Seattle's run game in the divisional round, freeing Seahawks tight end Zach Miller to catch eight passes for 142 yards and a touchdown.
Davis could live with that type of arrangement, for sure.