Michael Crabtree down to last chance at the SF 49ers

It’s put up or shut up time for the Niners’ Michael Crabtree, whose 12-touchdown output in three seasons since being drafted 10th overall in 2009 represents significant underachievement, yet he was handed the starting job opposite Randy Moss for today’s opener at Green Bay.

Why was Crabtree given the start over Mario Manningham, who has 18 TDs in 3½ seasons and a far more favorable reputation as a teammate and worker?

No clue, but coach Jim Harbaugh says Crabtree has the best hands he’s ever seen, and the level of ridiculousness associated with such a statement suggests that there are mind games being played, and mind games suggest desperation.

The Niners, quite simply, are at a crossroads with Crabtree.

He’s acted like a first-round diva receiver, most notably mocking Alex Smith’s status as the team’s quarterback during last year’s lockout. What self-respecting diva wideout hasn’t called out his QB, right?

Yet acting like a first-round diva receiver typically doesn’t go over very well unless one plays like a first-rounder, and Crabtree hasn’t played like one. Not by a mile.

Ergo, exasperation. Desperation. Mind games.

Harbaugh loves mind games, and he fancies himself a master of manipulation. And what he appears to be doing in regard to Crabtree is playing to No. 15’s outsized ego.

Harbaugh is betting that by telling everyone, including Crabtree, how special Crabtree is, it will force upon the 24-year-old from Texas Tech a sense of obligation to live up to such high praise.

Best hands Harbaugh’s ever seen? Harbaugh was an assistant coach on a Raiders team that included Jerry Rice and Tim Brown. He was a teammate of Marvin Harrison in Indy. Last year alone, he coached against Larry Fitzgerald and Calvin Johnson.

Crabtree has those guys beat? Please. Granted, Harbaugh is good for a comical overestimate of his players every other day, but this one went over the top.

But let’s say Crabtree does have all-time hands. Does he have an all-time work ethic? Does he have the all-time ability to get open? We sure haven’t seen it yet, and nothing indicates we’ll see it this season.

Manningham and Moss have proven themselves as pros. Crabtree has proven only that he can disappear in a sold-out stadium.

HEAD SCRATCHERS: The A’s have gotten a ton of attention this season for turning conventional wisdom on its ass, surprising the baseball world by forging a wildly entertaining and successful season in the wake of preseason predictions that hovered in the 100-loss range.

The Giants, on the other hand, were expected to challenge for a playoff spot, and they are.

But given what they’ve been through and who they are, they qualify as something of a surprise team, too.

They have a rotation that’s been better in name value than actual performance for quite some time now, struggling as frequently as shining. Their offense, never all that impressive, lost its most prolific hitter for the season as the stretch drive kicked into overdrive. They are without a closer.

And yet despite all that, as well as the Los Angeles Dodgers’ seemingly endless string of high-profile acquisitions, the Giants have been the class of the National League West for some time.

None of it makes any sense, and that’s what makes baseball so great. Just when you think you have a clue as to how it’s all supposed to work, you realize you don’t.

The A’s have been supremely compelling for all kinds of reasons, but it doesn’t take more than a cursory look at the storylines to see that in terms of drama, the Giants have been right there with them, every step of the way.

SPEED ROUND: If you dig Bay Area sports in general, you have to be pulling for the Raiders to put on a good show Monday night. It’s a great opportunity to show the world that yes, it really is a brand new day for the Silver and Black. … Congrats to Don Nelson for his enshrinement in the basketball Hall of Fame. Anyone pointing frantically to the fact that he never won a title as a coach doesn’t get the big picture. He won plenty as a player, and as a coach he was nothing short of a visionary. … It’s sad that Andy Roddick is viewed in so many circles as a failure. Without him, American tennis would have been a worldwide joke for the past decade.

Mychael Urban, host of Inside The Bigs (9 a.m. to noon Saturdays) on 95.7 FM The Game, can be followed on Twitter @BigUrbSports. His website is UrbsUnchained.com.

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