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The 49ers had a vision of what their team would look like when they traded for Anquan Boldin to pair with Michael Crabtree this past offseason. Unfortunately for San Francisco, they had to wait and see how that vision would unfold after Crabtree went down with an Achilles' injury that would cost him most of the season. In Crabtree's absence, the offense would struggle to find it's way at times but has rebounded again with his presence.
Crabtree has now been back in the lineup for a total of seven games and the 49ers have not lost since he returned. They have only scored less than 23 points once during those seven contests (19 against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 14) which is proof of a new found consistency on offense that wasn't there earlier in the season. While the 49ers are averaging just about the same amount of points per game with Crabtree back in the lineup (24.9 without him, 25.4 with him), they have not had the clunkers that seemed to find their way into the equation in the earlier part of the year. The 49ers were held to 9 points or less three times over an eight game span from Weeks 2-10.
Crabtree's numbers haven't been overly prolific as he has 30 catches for 435 yards and just one touchdown, but he has made big receptions at important times. Seven of the eight balls he caught against the Green Bay Packers in the Wild Card round went for first downs and three receptions moved the chains on third and fourth down. Most importantly though, Crabtree being on the field has opened up more opportunities for his teammates.
Perhaps no players have benefited more from Crabtree being back than Colin Kaepernick and Boldin. In the 11 games without Crabtree, Kaepernick struggled to maintain consistency throwing the ball. He averaged 185 yards passing a game and threw seven interceptions. In the seven games since he's had all of his weapons at his disposal, Kaepernick is averaging 226 passing yards per contest and has only thrown two interceptions.
Boldin has also seen a spike in his numbers. Before Crabtree, Boldin was averaging 4.7 catches and just under 66 yards a game. Those numbers were inflated by his 208 yard Week 1 performance as he only eclipsed the 70 yard mark in four of 11 games. Since Crabtree's return, Boldin has seen his catches per game shoot up to 6.2 and his yards increase to 89.8. He has been more consistent, gaining 70 or more yards in five of seven games and has eclipsed 90 and 100 twice each.
The real test is yet to come. Century Link Field has been a house of horrors for the 49ers over the last two seasons as they have been out scored 71-16 in their two losses. To put that into perspective, San Francisco has lost seven regular season road games in three years under Jim Harbaugh. They have been outscored by 56 points against Seattle in two games, and by 29 points in the other five losses combined.
Regardless of what happened in the past, the 49ers finally have all of their pieces in place and are as complete a team as they have been under Harbaugh. While it remains to be seen if San Francisco can reverse the recent trend of futility in Seattle, this may be the best 49er team out of three that have made the NFC Championship from 2011-2013. For that, they can thank the player they acquired, the player they got back, and the quarterback that is reaping the benefits.