All season long, I’ve lamented the play of San Francisco 49ers offense, constantly forgetting they were without one of their main weapons for a majority of the season.
With the return of wide receiver Michael Crabtree, however, the 49ers are loaded for bear and on the hunt for a sixth Super Bowl title.
The fact Crabtree is back at all is small miracle. Crabtree has done for Achilles-surgery/rehab history what Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson did for knees.
It’s generally accepted that for a serious ligament injury, players aren’t back to their previous performance level until the second season after surgery. In 2012, Peterson rushed for nearly 1,300 yards nine months after knee surgery.
Crabtree’s comeback has been equally impressive. When he tore his tendon in May, the prognosis was he could be back by December. Most scoffed. Even if he could return — and that was a big ‘if’ — there was no way he could be that big a factor. He wouldn’t be able to make the cuts or get explosive push off that surgically-repaired Achilles, could he?
Turns out Crabtree has hit the ground running and his return could be the wild card in the 49ers return to the Super Bowl. There he was Sunday, running precise curl routes, spinning out of tackles, juking defenders — all the things he’s not supposed to be doing coming off a torn Achilles. He torched the Green Bay defense for 125 yards on eight catches.
In five games since becoming activated, Crabtree has 15 catches for 284 yards and a career-high average yards per catch of 14.9 yards.
More importantly, I haven’t seen Crabtree favoring his heel, hobbling or limping on or off the field. He seems to have had full confidence in his Achilles since he was reinserted into the lineup and, as he’s gotten into playing shape, his production has climbed.
He missed the 49ers’ 10-9 loss to Carolina during the regular season. He had four catches for 40 yards in the 49ers’ 19-17 win over Seattle. Think Crabtree might make a difference against the Panthers Sunday? Against the Seahawks or Saints in the NFC championship game? Against the AFC representative in the Super Bowl?
The NFL playoffs certainly got to a rip roarin’ start this weekend, with three of the four games decided in the final minutes.
The one game that stood out, however, was Indianapolis’ unbelievable 45-44 win over Kansas City during which the Colts stormed back from a 38-10, second-half deficit.
Which begs the question: How good is Andrew Luck? How good is he going to be? Only a second-year player, he’s led the Colts to back-to-back playoff appearances and a division title.
Sunday, he had the signature moment of his short career, throwing for 443 yards and four touchdowns and scoring a fifth on one of the most head’s-up plays you’ll see when he scooped up a fumble near the goal line and dove into the end zone for the score.
I don’t know how many 10-year vets make that play, let alone a guy in his second year. We saw plenty of brilliance from Luck during his time at Stanford. As he has grown, so has his game.
If there is a dark horse in these NFL playoffs, it’s got to be San Diego. The Chargers surged into the playoffs on one of the quietest four-game winning streaks you never heard of.
Yet they methodically dismantled Cincinnati 27-10 Sunday to advance to the AFC semifinals.
Quarterback Philip Rivers continues to fly under the radar and, while he threw for only 128 yards and a touchdown, he carried the Chargers into the playoffs, throwing for nearly 4,500 yards this season.
San Diego has played the last month like every game was a playoff game. The Chargers needed to win their final four games just to get to the postseason. Now their streak is at five and as Rivers said, this was just round five of the playoffs, now they’re on to round six.
Round six happens to be in Denver. The Broncos are the top seed, but San Diego came away with a 27-20 win in week 16 — in Denver. Can the Chargers continue their run? Given Peyton Manning’s habit of melting down in cold-weather games, San Diego certainly has a chance next weekend.
Nathan Mollat can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone: 344-5200 ext. 117. He can also be followed on Twitter @CheckkThissOutt.