SANTA CLARA — Already eight seasons familiar with the dangers of the football field, Vernon Davis has seemingly taken worse lickings.
But the blow delivered to the 49ers tight end’s head via the Candlestick Park turf nearly nine weeks ago during a regular-season matchup against the Carolina Panthers was plenty enough to render him useless that Sunday.
“I didn’t play in that game,” Davis said. “I think I went out before the half with a concussion.”
His memory, albeit assuredly foggy, is correct. The 49ers stood a mere six yards from doubling their 6-0 lead when quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s pass was muscled incomplete by Carolina safety Mike Mitchell, who slammed Davis face-mask-first into the grass.
Davis — who had one reception for all of 2 yards that day — was done.
The field goal San Francisco would score on Davis’ game-exiting drive would be its final points on the day, proving incapable of breaking the Carolina defense, and ultimately losing 10-9.
And with Sunday’s rematch between the two clubs awaiting in Carolina in the NFC divisional playoff round, Davis wants in.
“I can’t wait,” said Davis, who hauled in two passes for 37 yards and a touchdown in last week’s 23-20 wild-card win over the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. “I’m excited to get back in there.”
And with the addition of receiver Michael Crabtree, who missed the initial meeting recovering from a torn ACL, Davis has reason to be.
Despite Carolina ranking among the best defenses in the league during the regular season — statistically first in total sacks with 60 and second only to the Seattle Seahawks in allowing 15.1 points and 301.2 yards per game — opposing tight ends managed some success.
In the Panthers’ final two regular-season games, Jimmy Graham of the New Orleans Saints and Tony Gonzalez of the Atlanta Falcons managed 73 yards on five catches with a touchdown, and 56 yards on four catches, respectively.
“Those are two very dynamic weapons in our offense,” said offensive tackle Joe Staley of Davis and Crabtree. “They do a terrific job of opening up the defense and creating mismatches.”
But against the formidable linebacker duo of Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis and a secondary that snagged 14 interceptions this year, mismatches will likely be hard to come by.
But Davis, who equaled his career-high touchdown total this season with 13, scoring six of those in his last seven games, doesn’t seem all too awed.
“I think it’s a new start for us,” Davis said. “I just look forward to getting after it.”
Getting after it is certainly something Davis has done in the postseason. Since his first trip to the playoff two seasons ago, Davis has scored six times in the postseason, tallying 583 yards in the process. But each of those previous postseason runs has ended in disappointment.