Crabtree developing into go-to wide receiver for San Francisco 49ers

Getty Images file photoMichael Crabtree

As the game clock ticked to zero Sunday at Candlestick Park, the feat hadn’t quite sunk in for 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree.

“It’ll probably sink in when I get home. I’ve never been in the playoffs,” Crabtree said after helping his team secure the NFC West Division title after routing the St. Louis Rams 26-0. “It’s something new for me. I can’t wait.”

In his third NFL season out of Texas Tech, Crabtree has grinded through an unrelenting foot injury to become San Francisco’s premier receiver this season and has thus helped vault his team into the playoffs for the first time in since 2002.

Starting in all but two games this year, Crabtree has been on the receiving end of 48 passes while notching 605 yards and two touchdowns, statistically making him Alex Smith’s No. 1 target.

“Michael Crabtree continues to play almost better and better each week,” 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said after Crabtree tallied 96 yards on four receptions in Sunday’s win against the Rams. “Not just the catches, not just the things that show up on the stat sheet. The blocking, and he’s so on with his assignments. He’s doing a great job.”

The 24-year-old’s breakout performance against Arizona three weeks ago helped establish his current top receiving spot. En route to thumping the division rival Cardinals 23-7, Crabtree posted his best individual game numbers of 2011, recording 120 yards on seven catches. And despite a meek showing by the 49ers’ offense against the Baltimore Ravens on Thanksgiving, Crabtree still managed six catches for 54 yards.

“We’re just doing our job,” Crabtree said. “Coach [Harbaugh] is calling plays up and we’re just going out there trying to execute them.”

One of those plays came in the third quarter of Sunday’s matchup when Smith launched a 52-yard touchdown pass to Crabtree, essentially sealing the win and the NFC West. Though the scoring play was only Crabtree’s second of the season, it was appropriately his longest of the year.

“That’s something you practice,” Crabtree said of the TD grab. “I knew they would call it, but you never know when. We practice it every week. It’s nothing new.”

What is new for Crabtree is his finally not being part of the latest injury report.

“This is the first time I’m 100 percent,” Crabtree said. “It’s crazy.”

And if the 49ers’ opponents concur that Crabtree is looking better, so does Harbaugh.

“He looks healthier,” Harbaugh said. “He’s such a tough guy. He never says a word about what’s nagging him or bothering him. He just suits up and goes and plays. You ask him how he’s doing and he says he’s fine. He’s that kind of guy.”

 

GAME DAY

49ers (10-2) vs. Cardinals (5-7)

WHEN: Sunday, 1:05 p.m.

WHERE: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz.

TV: Fox (KTVU, Ch. 2)

RADIO: KNBR (680 AM), KSAN (107.7 FM)

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