Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Most plants won't grow unless you water them.
Crabtrees are different. You just have to add a little Kaepernick.
Of course, I'm referring to San Francisco 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree and his quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Both will be on the field for Sunday's NFC Championship Game in Atlanta. The matchup will mark the Niners' second straight appearance in the NFC title game.
Last season, San Francisco's formula for success revolved around a stout defense and the power running of muscular halfback Frank Gore. This season, Kaepernick and Crabtree are the focal points.
Before this season, Crabtree, one of the most decorated receivers ever at the college level (he was selected as the top receiver in FBS two years in a row at Texas Tech) had never amassed more than 874 receiving yards in a single season.
But that was with game-manager Alex Smith running the show. With Kaepernick calling the shots, Crabtree has finally broken out. Since Kaepernick took over as the starter with seven games left in the regular season, Crabtree has amassed 714 yards and seven touchdowns.
Look at what some of the league's other top quarterback/wide receiver duos have produced over that same time frame (the last eight games):
A.J. Green, Cincinnati: 610 yards, 2 TD
Brandon Marshall, Chicago: 711 yards, 4 TD
Demaryius Thomas, Denver: 580 yards, 7 TD
Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis: 538 yards, 2 TD
Wes Welker, New England: 675 yards, 4 TD
Roddy White, Atlanta: 604 yards, 4 TD
The Kaepernick/Crabtree connection has been better than all of them. Over the last eight games, only Dez Bryant (879), Andre Johnson (885) and Calvin Johnson (1,197) have collected more receiving yards than Crabtree and only Bryant has scored more touchdowns (10).
We haven't seen a 49ers receiver post numbers like this in a long time. In fact, by pulling in 1,105 yards for the season (14th in the NFL), Crabtree became the first Niners wideout to reach 1,000 yards since you guessed it, Terrell Owens back in 2003.
Wait, there's more. If you extrapolate Crabtree's stats from his recent eight- game hot streak and stretch it out to an entire season, he'd finish the year with 14 touchdowns and a whopping 1,428 yards receiving.
The last time a San Francisco receiver eclipsed 14 touchdowns was Owens in 2001 (16) and the most recent Niners receiver to accumulate that many yards was also Owens, who had a career-high 1,451 yards in 2000. Owens should be a first ballot Hall of Famer in a few years so I guess you could say Crabtree is in good company.
Kaepernick, who already leads the league in tattoos, has been just as dominant as Crabtree. Again, we've only seen half a season of Kaepernick but the half we did see was pretty spectacular (12 TD, 4 INT, 1,871 yards, 61.4 completion percentage, 98.7 QB rating). If we stretch Kaepernick's numbers out over a full season like we did with Crabtree, they'd look something like this: 24 TD, 8 INT, 3,742 yards.
It's not crazy to think Kaepernick could approach 4,000 yards passing if he plays a full season next year. And if he does, he'll become the first San Francisco QB to accomplish that feat since Jeff Garcia chucked his way to 4,278 yards back in 2000.
Amazingly, Kaepernick's arm might not even be his biggest weapon. Last week, he torched the Green Bay Packers with his legs, dodging and weaving his way to a QB playoff record 181 rushing yards on 16 carries. Among NFL QBs, only Robert Griffin III (815), Cam Newton (741) and Russell Wilson (489) ran for more yards than Kaepernick (415) did during the regular season.
Crabtree and Kaepernick must be licking their chops knowing they'll be going up against the Falcons on Sunday. Atlanta finished the season 23rd in pass defense at 242.4 ypg and over the last three games they've been even worse than that (350 ypg).
Quarterback Matt Ryan rescued the Falcons with a clutch last minute drive last week against Seattle. With Crabtree and Kaepernick on the other side, he might not be as lucky this time around.