49ers' Davis steps back into spotlight, ignites offense
Published: Sunday, January 20, 2013 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 20, 2013 at 10:53 p.m.
ATLANTA — The Falcons wanted to stop Colin Kaepernick from running, and they accomplished that. Kaepernick rushed just two times for 21 yards.
The Falcons wanted to stop Michael Crabtree from scoring, and they accomplished that, too. Crabtree caught six passes for 57 yards and no touchdowns; he fumbled at the goal line.
Unfortunately for the Falcons, they forgot to stop Vernon Davis.
You may have heard of him. He's the tight end for the 49ers. He's the most athletic tight end in the NFL and, with apologies to the aging Tony Gonzalez, maybe of all time. For part of the season, the 49ers forgot about him, too.
“The tight end was an issue,” Falcons head coach Mike Smith said after the game. “They made a number of explosive plays with the tight end. When you go into a game and have a game plan in place and you put resources to one area, one of our main goals was to stop the quarterback from running the football. We did not cover the tight end as well as we needed to. Those were the plays that I felt like they made and it wasn't necessarily the wide receivers or the running back. It was the tight end.”
The Falcons had the same issue last week. They gave up eight catches for 142 yards and a touchdown to the Seahawks' tight end, Zach Miller. “I watched that whole game probably three times in two days,” Davis said afterward in the locker room.
Did the Falcons watch it? If they did, they didn't learn from it. Maybe someone forgot to give them that film clip because they let Vernon Davis sprint around the field uncovered most of the game.
Maybe Falcons defensive coordinator, Mike Nolan, the man who drafted Vernon Davis for the 49ers in 2006, thought the 49ers' offensive coordinator, Greg Roman, lost track of the fact Vernon Davis is on the team. Or maybe Nolan thought Roman didn't like Davis for some reason. Or maybe Nolan thought Davis wasn't good any more.
Whatever Nolan was thinking, he was wrong. Davis caught five passes for 106 yards and a touchdown and played like, well, Vernon Davis.
Over the past seven games, Davis had caught just seven passes, and none of them was a touchdown. The 49ers kept saying Davis was getting double-covered, so Kaepernick had to throw to other receivers.
The Falcons decided to oblige the 49ers. They double-covered Michael Crabtree, not Davis. Davis mostly faced one-on-one or one-on-none coverage. After the game, Davis estimated he faced double coverage one time: “They tried to use two guys on me on one play,” he said. “It was a corner route. They tried to use two guys to hold me at the line, so I just squeezed through. I was wide open and made the play.”
Davis was asked if he knew he was going to have a big game when he first saw the 49ers' offensive game plan on Tuesday.
“They put in plays for me each and every week,” he said. “Sometimes I get extremely excited. Other times, I just let it come. I'll wait and see what happens.”
Here's what happened: At the beginning of the second quarter, the 49ers were down 17-0. Their first two drives were three-and-outs. On their third drive they gained three first downs, but they faced third and 7 near midfield after a delay of game penalty on Colin Kaepernick.
Vernon Davis lined up in the slot. The Falcons were playing zone defense. Davis ran a shallow crossing route. Zero Falcons covered him.
Kaepernick hit Davis in stride, and Davis ran all the way down to the Falcons' 15-yard line. Gain of 27. The 49ers scored two plays later, and they did not punt again until there were 13 seconds left in the game.
After Davis made his first catch, the 49ers' offense became unstoppable. In the first quarter, Davis had no catches and the 49ers had negative 2 net yards. In the second, third and fourth quarters, the 49ers had 375 net yards — 8.3 yards per play. During that span Davis caught a 4-yard touchdown, a 19-yard pass, two 25-yard passes (one was called back due to a holding penalty on Mike Iupati), and a 31-yard pass. Every time the 49ers needed a big play, Kaepernick passed to Davis and he caught it.
“Confidence was out of the roof,” said Davis. “Never seen it before.”He's hasn't seen that much attention this season. It's always nice to be rediscovered.
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