NEW ORLEANS – When the Niners needed it on Sunday – and man, did they need it – they looked to get the ball to two players.
Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree. They almost helped lead the Niners out of the darkness and into the greatest comeback win in Super Bowl history.
On the Niners final offensive play of season it was Crabtree, attempting to fight through an apparent hold by Ravens corner Jimmy Smith, trying in vain to catch a Colin Kaepernick throw that fell just out of reach. And the Niners’ title hopes fell with it.
But it wasn’t for lack of effort and it wasn’t for lack of guts. The Ravens just got in the way.
The two players combined for 11 catches and 213 yards. Eighteen of Kaepernick’s 28 attempts went to either the fourth-year wideout or the seventh-year tight end.
Crabtree kickstarted the post-outage comeback with a 31-yard touchdown catch that highlighted his receiving ability and post-catch toughness as he ran out of a Cary Williams tackle for the score. On the play preceding the touchdown, Davis went 18 yards with a Kaepernick throw to put the Niners at the Baltimore 31.
On the next Niners drive, it was Davis putting the hammer down on the Baltimore secondary, mashing down to the Baltimore 6 with a 14-yard reception.
If San Francisco was going to come back, it needed singularly brilliant efforts. And Davis and Crabtree had begun delivering them.
And they did until the very end.
On the Niners final drive, when they were trying to finally erase the Ravens lead, Davis just missed hauling in a tough throw from Kaepernick down the right sideline.
On the next play, Crabtree went where the best receivers go – over the middle to pull in a 24-yard reception and get the Niners into Ravens territory with 2:39 left.
A 33-yard burst by Frank Gore put the Niners in business at the Baltimore 7. But after a run by LaMichael James, the Niners called three seemingly low-percentage plays to Crabtree.
All three failed and the final one, where Smith had Crabtree in a bear hug, will be discussed at length for a long time.
[Y! Sports: Crabtree 'It was a missed call']
There was a time four seasons ago when Davis was singled out as symbolic of what was wrong with the 49ers.
“I want winners!” ranted Mike Singletary and the implication was that Davis – at that time was not.
Within a year of Singletary’s rant, Crabtree was in the midst of a rookie holdout that helped derail his rookie season and make him a bit performer. Pain in the posterior was a possibility.
Sunday night in New Orleans, Davis and Crabtree – along with the indescribable Kaepernick – were the central figures for a 49ers offense that came so close to a win for the ages.
They lost Sunday night. But nobody’s looking at Davis – or Crabtree – and wondering if they’re winners.