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Notebook: Crabtree Helps 49ers Clinch

Posted Dec 30, 2012



Their hats said it all.

Moments after the big-time 27-13 win over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, Michael Crabtree and Colin Kaepernick took to the postgame press conference podium as champs. The bright, red caps were stitched with “NFC West Division Champions” in big, bold letters, sitting atop their smiling faces as they fielded questions from the media.

After the duo worked in tandem to put on a clinic against Arizona, perhaps it was fitting the two young players did their press conference together.

He had just put up a career-high 172 yards on eight catches with two touchdowns, but Crabtree wanted to talk about the man next to him.

“My dude made it happen,” Crabtree said, as he put his hand on Kaepernick’s shoulder.

Just minutes earlier, Crabtree was sitting in his seat in the 49ers locker room, watching intently as the Vikings played the Packers. With a Minnesota victory, the 49ers would lock up the NFC’s No. 2 seed and a first-round bye.

The room erupted with every big Vikings play leading up to the contest’s final kick. As Minnesota kicker Blair Walsh lined up for the game-winning attempt with three seconds left on the clock, the room reached fever pitch.

“Give me that bye week,” Joe Staley yelled as he watched the TV.

Once Walsh’s kick split the uprights from 29 yards out, the 49ers celebrated their bye week as a team in the raucous locker room.

“I feel like I have another birthday today,” Isaac Sopoaga said shortly after watching the Vikings victory. “We won our division and Minnesota beat Green Bay, thanks to them. Congratulations to our family team, big time. I feel like a little kid.”

On Sunday, the 49ers hit the Cardinals with a heavy dose of Crabtree, Crabtree and more Crabtree.

Facing a 6-0 deficit in the second quarter, San Francisco looked to the fourth-year wideout to spark the offense. In a span of two plays, Kaepernick and Crabtree woke up Candlestick.

First came a pass down the left seam which brought the 49ers from their 20 to midfield. The very next snap, Crabtree was wide open down the left sideline before hauling in the pass from Kaepernick and jumping into the end zone next to the left pylon.

The 49ers would never trail the rest of the game. After building the lead up to 10-6 midway through the third quarter, Kaepernick and Crabtree connected again to really put the game in San Francisco’s hands.

On a 2nd-and-goal from the Arizona 9, Crabtree went in motion to the left from the backfield and ran a short route into the flat. Kaepernick snuck a perfect pass past the outstretched hands of an Arizona defender before Crabtree hauled it in and scooted in the end zone for his second score of the day.

“He’s done it all season long,” 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. “Pretty well-documented he’s had a terrific season and he’s done it many times this year. Multiple games where he’s given us a big lift and a big spark. He’s stepped up, he’s made plays.”

It marked Crabtree’s fourth touchdown in two games against Arizona this season, wrapping up a banner year that included 85 catches for 1,105 yards and nine touchdowns, all career highs. Sunday also marked a new career high in passing yards for Kaepernick, as he went 16 of 28 for 276 yards and two scores.

Both players seemed surprised to find out they both accomplished career bests on the same day.

“To tell you the truth, I wasn’t really paying attention. I didn’t even know you did a career high day,” Crabtree said to Kaepernick.

“I didn’t either, I just found out,” Kaepernick responded.

The touchdowns weren’t the only thing that highlighted Crabtree’s stellar afternoon. He had some first downs of note, too. Crabtree moved the chains twice with receptions on fourth down and three more times on third down in a continuing trend of clutch catches.

“He is a football player,” Frank Gore said. “I know he doesn’t get a lot of the recognition that he deserves, but I’m happy he’s on our team.”

It was all smiles after the game, but the 49ers will be back to the grind shortly. Despite his career day finish his career year, Crabtree is already looking ahead to the NFC Divisional round. The 49ers will host their undetermined opponent at 5 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 12. Tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. on Monday, Jan. 7.

“It feels good,” Crabtree said. “As I said, I’m really focused on these playoffs. With how bad I did last year, in my opinion, I feel like I didn’t do what I was supposed to do. I feel like I get another chance. We’re back again and ready to win.”

Gore Claims Another Franchise Record

Gore was already the franchise leader in carries and yards heading into Sunday’s game, but he added another notch to his belt. With his fourth-quarter, 2-yard touchdown run, Gore passed Hall of Famer Joe Perry and mentor Roger Craig on the all-time franchise list of rushing touchdowns with 51.

“It’s just loving the game and hard working,” Gore said. “Knowing my name when you say the 49ers, you mention my name with the guys in the past like Jerry Rice, Steve Young, Joe Montana, it’s a blessing.”

With 20 carries for 68 yards, Gore finished his fourth Pro Bowl season with 1,214 yards, the second-highest total of his career, and nine touchdowns.

Gore and Craig have struck up a friendship over the years, and the former 49ers great made sure to recognize Gore for his career accomplishment on Sunday.

“I talk to him a lot,” Gore said. “He texted me today to congratulate me on the touchdown record and he helps me out when he can.”

Smith Returns to Action

Alex Smith received a standing ovation late in the fourth quarter as he took over the final two drives for the 49ers offense.

The signal-caller, who was supplanted by Kaepernick as the team’s starter in Week 11, has been the model teammate since the quarterback change was made. The 49ers Faithful recognized Smith for all of his contributions over the years, as they chanted his first name after he trotted off the field to sideline.

“It was humbling. Very humbling,” Smith said. “There’s been a lot of ups and downs with the fans and me, we’ve been through a lot. Humbling out there, for sure.”

Smith’s first drive didn’t result in a first down, but he took the victory formation honors to end the game. After handing the ball off to LaMichael James for a first down, Smith took two knees to run out the clock and clinch the victory.

“It was fun to be back out on the field,” Smith said. “I’m loving what’s going on. We have such a great group of guys and to win the division, back-to-back division champs, and get this bye right now, No. 2 seed in the NFC, it’s a great situation.”

Notes and Quotes

Undrafted rookie defensive lineman Tony Jerod-Eddie, who was promoted from the scout team to the 53-man roster earlier this week, made his 49ers debut on Sunday. Jerod-Eddie entered the game for the first time with the punt return unit and also played the final two series of game on defense.

“It was great, man,” Jerod-Eddie said. “Championship game, I’m just happy to be a part of it. I’m just happy for all of the vets that have invested so much; being here for the down years now back-to-back champs. It feels real good to be a part of it.”

The 49ers defense was back to its dominant self on Sunday. Tarell Brown notched his second interception of the year and Ray McDonald registered his first forced fumble of the season, before Donte Whitner picked up his first fumble recovery of the year.

Ricky Jean Francois earned his second sack in as many weeks and Ahmad Brooks upped his season sack total to 6.5 with a takedown of Cardinals quarterback Brian Hoyer.

“We talked about it during the week that our defense had to come out and play from this point on,” Patrick Willis said. “Today was a great start of what we need to do.”

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