Super Bowl • After declining production, playoff numbers up.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Santa Clara, Calif. • So which Vernon Davis will we see in Super Bowl XLVII?
Will it be the man who made just six catches for 61 yards the final six regular-season games? Or the guy who in two postseason games has caught six balls for 150 yards and a touchdown while being targeted 11 times?
It's probably a better question for the Baltimore Ravens and how they choose to defend the 49ers' dangerous tight end, but to date, they haven't been forthcoming with answers. In NFC Championship game, though, the Atlanta Falcons clearly didn't make Davis a major focal point of their pass defense and paid dearly as a result.
"My number was called, I got open, they didn't play me the way they should have, and I just took advantage of the opportunities," Davis said. "That's what it's about. It's about taking advantage of the opportunities and stepping up when your name is called."
There have been all sorts of theories about why Davis went into hibernation as a receiving threat for the last six regular-season contests, when he didn't catch more than two balls in any game, had just one catch over 10 yards (a 27-yarder, his only catch, in the 42-13 loss at Seattle) and didn't get into the end zone once.
One hypothesis was that opposing defenses were taking him away. Another that he was having trouble developing a working relationship with new starting quarterback Colin Kaepernick. A third was that with Kaepernick's development, the 49ers had more offensive options and didn't need to rely on Davis so much as a receiver. A fourth was that they needed him more as a blocker.
All may have some shreds of credence. But for Davis' part, none of the theories has mattered much. He's doing what's asked of him with nary a complaint.
"Each and every game, if I'm just out there blocking, I'm just happy to be out there, man," he said. "I'm not worried about the statistics, because those things will come. I just want everybody to know that because everywhere I go, they're always, 'Vernon, why aren't you involved in the passing game?' I'm like, 'It's bigger than that. It's bigger than that.' So, that's where I stand."
It wasn't always that way, he acknowledged.
"When I first came in this game, it was all about me," he said. "I'm not going to lie. It was all about what I wanted. I didn't look at it from a team standpoint. I grew. Coach [Mike] Singletary was here, and he helped me make that transition from a boy to a young man. I'm very thankful for that."
Davis did confess that his limited role in the passing game down the stretch of the regular season tested his team-first resolve a bit.
"But I was patient and just waited for my opportunities," he said.
Davis' numbers were down somewhat even before the final six-game dry spell. Over Alex Smith's last four starts, Davis caught a combined nine passes for 101 yards and no touchdowns and no complaints.
Offensive coordinator Greg Roman said it's simply a case of Davis and all of the other receivers buying into the philosophy that the 49ers are going to throw the ball to the players getting the most advantageous coverages.
"Everything we do in the passing game is really reacting," Roman said. "We're going to throw the ball to the open guy. And Vernon was open [against Atlanta] by the way things played out, and he did a great job."
Five catches for 106 yards and a touchdown against the Falcons have surely caught the Ravens' attention, hence Davis has no firm idea about how the Baltimore defense might play him or how big a role he'll have in the passing game.
"There's really no telling what they'll do, but we have to go in with a great plan and just be ready for anything," he said.
One thing Davis is sure about if he is a focal point and he's open, Kaepernick will get him the ball. Davis said he never talked to Kaepernick or the coaches about why they weren't throwing to him much.
"No, I didn't talk about any of that I didn't feel like I had to," he said. "The only thing I talked to Kaep about was different routes that I was running, just getting the timing down and things like that. But I didn't talk to them about watching me and throwing me the ball because I wasn't worried about that."
Roman said he's never noticed a difference in Davis' demeanor in the two years he's been coaching with the 49ers, even when Davis wasn't having many passes thrown his way.
"Vernon has been such a valuable member of this team," Roman said. "Not just catching passes, but blocking, helping get our running game going and pass protection as well. "Sometimes, just flat out being a decoy to draw coverage away from somebody else. And he's done it with a big smile on his face and just a need and a want to win."