SANTA CLARA — Considering the career season he produced a year ago, Michael Crabtree hesitates to say he is completely back to his former playmaking self only seven months after Achilles tendon surgery.
“I'm headed that direction,” Crabtree said Thursday. “I don't really think about it, I just count my blessings and keep it going.”
There's no arguing he has made big gains in his contributions each week in what has been a remarkable comeback the past four games with the 49ers.
After a rigorous recovery following the procedure to repair his torn right Achilles tendon in May, Crabtree realizes he could be far worse off if the injury didn't heal as well as it did. Things have gone about as smoothly as he could have imagined given the severity.
“I'm just blessed to be out there,” he said. “I'm just out there playing, thankful to be back on the field.”
It shows. He has returned to being the jokester with teammates in the locker room, where Crabtree participates in the occasional game of mini basketball with the guys while razzing anyone he can at every chance.
The 26-year-old Crabtree has 16 catches for 255 yards and a touchdown, making five receptions in each of the past two games to help the Niners (11-4) run their winning streak to five heading into the final regular-season game Sunday at Arizona (10-5).
“Nothing surprises me with him. He's an amazing player, he works hard,” quarterback Colin Kaepernick said. “We knew when he came back he'd be ready to play.”
A man of few words completely by his own design, Crabtree has long let his outspoken teammates be more vocal for the franchise as he prefers to make any statements on the field. If San Francisco is going to return to the Super Bowl after coming so close last season, Crabtree will surely have an important hand in getting the 49ers there.
“When you add one of your best players back to the offense it's going to impact anybody,” offensive coordinator Greg Roman said.
The fifth-year wideout, the Niners' 10th overall pick out of Texas Tech in the 2009 draft, tore his right Achilles tendon during 7-on-7 drills in an organized team activity May 21, then had surgery. The 49ers said from the beginning they thought he would be back this year.
Crabtree emerged as Kaepernick's top target last year and had career bests of 85 receptions for 1,105 yards and nine touchdowns. They have quickly found their rhythm again.
Crabtree had a 60-yard catch in his first game back against St. Louis on Dec. 1. Then came a 47-yarder in which he made a nice adjustment on an underthrown ball in the third quarter in Monday night's 34-24 victory against Atlanta, the likely last game at Candlestick Park.
Crabtree also had receptions of 22 yards and 11 yards in the next series on the way to 102 yards receiving.
This year, he has a talented complement at the other wide receiver spot in Anquan Boldin — not to mention tight end Vernon Davis with 12 touchdowns.
“Defenses play us honest, that's the only thing that's really changed for us,” Kaepernick said of having his offense back intact.
Arizona's defense knows it will have a different dynamic to deal with this weekend given San Francisco's improved passing attack.
“I don't see the same guy but he's getting close,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said of Crabtree.
The 49ers will look for more drives like the 89-yard, 18-play sequence they put together at the start of the fourth quarter in a 32-20 Week 6 win over the Cardinals. That drive took up 9 minutes, 32 seconds, getting the clock down to 6:35 remaining.
For Crabtree, a different series is still plenty fresh. Kaepernick threw incomplete on three straight passes from the 5 intended for Crabtree in the waning moments of a 34-31 Super Bowl loss.
He will soon get another chance in the playoffs.
“I'm just thankful to be out there playing football,” Crabtree said. “I just go game to game. As long as I'm winning, I'm good.”
Notes: S Donte Whitner won't be fined for his second-quarter personal foul for a hard hit to Steven Jackson's upper body. That marked Whitner's fourth such penalty this season, but he notes he hasn't paid anything — and even apparently won an appeal for an earlier $21,000 fine from a Week 4 hit on Rams wide receiver Chris Givens, though the league never called. He is sticking to his style as the way the game “is supposed to be played. Even if it looks bad, it's not bad,” Whitner said. “It's shoulder. It's not launching. It's not using the crown of my helmet.”… LG Mike Iupati said he came out of the game OK after returning from a three-game absence because of a left knee sprain