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Michael Crabtree's return makes 49ers a different team

  • Colin Kaepernick finds Michael Crabtree for a 17-yard gain on the final drive of the game. The San Francisco 49ers beat the Green Bay Packers, 23-20, in the wild- card playoff game at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis., on Sunday. (John Burgess / PD)

SANTA CLARA — There's a far different dynamic for Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers' offense this time around against Carolina.

His name is Michael Crabtree.

Kaepernick had his least-productive game as a pro in a 10-9 loss to the Panthers on Nov. 10 at Candlestick Park, and the Niners had also lost tight end Vernon Davis to a first-half concussion that day.

Now, with two of Kaepernick's top targets at full strength to complement Anquan Boldin, San Francisco (13-4) is riding a seven-game winning streak and ready for a different outcome in the NFC divisional playoffs Sunday at Charlotte.

"I didn't perform well enough," Kaepernick said Wednesday. "A variety of things, it really depends on the play, but we have to play better this week. It was me. It was something that the first game we didn't play very well, we didn't execute the way we should have."

It didn't help Kaepernick's cause getting sacked six times. He went 11 for 22 for 91 yards and an interception with a dismal 42.0 passer rating, his second-lowest of the season after a 20.1 rating in a 29-3 Week 2 loss at Seattle.

Add Crabtree and Davis to the mix and the Panthers have a lot more to deal with on defense other than focusing to slow down Frank Gore, who ran for 82 yards in the first meeting.

Crabtree caught eight passes for 125 yards Sunday in a 23-20 wild-card win at Green Bay. He returned for the final five games of the regular season following May surgery on a torn right Achilles tendon, making 19 receptions for 284 yards and a touchdown. His season debut came Dec. 1 against St. Louis.

"Offensively, they've got Michael Crabtree back 100 percent," Carolina coach Ron Rivera said Wednesday. "What it does is it gives them another weapon with a guy that has the ability to get open and make plays happen."

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