The San Francisco 49ers emerged with a 34-24 victory over the Atlanta Falcons this past Monday, and one of the reasons for the victory was the performance of wide receiver Anquan Boldin. The veteran finished the game with six receptions for 72 yards and a touchdown.
The performance also put him over the 1,000-yard mark for the sixth time in his career. He currently has 76 receptions for 1,030 yards and six touchdowns. Combined with Frank Gore's 1,114 yards, this marks the first time since 2000-2001 the 49ers have had back-to-back seasons of 1,000 yards rushing and receiving. Last season, Michael Crabtree had 1,105 receiving yards, and Frank Gore had 1,214 yards. Back in 2000, Charlie Garner rushed for 1,142 yards and Terrell Owens had 1,451 receiving yards. In 2001, Garrison Hearst rushed for 1,206 yards and Terrell Owens had 1,412 receiving yards.
I don't think there was much concern about Boldin performing when he came to San Francisco, but it is not surprising that a few people brought up the so-called curse of 81. 49ers players sporting the No. 81 jersey have not had the greatest history. Some of the notable names to wear No. 81 since Terrell Owens include Rashaun Woods, Brandon Williams, Antonio Bryant, Brandon Jones and Braylon Edwards for a spell.
We could maybe say that Garrett Celek "broke the curse" to some extent. He wore it last season, and had some success as the third tight end. But among high profile players that have sported 81, Anquan Boldin is the first solid performer. And given what the 49ers lost when Michael Crabtree tore his Achilles, Boldin has been a huge reason the 49ers are where they are at. Success is due to a variety of players, but Boldin was a key safety blanket for Colin Kaepernick before Crabtree came back.
Crabtree is looking like he's returning to No. 1 receiver form, but it's nice to have a strong No. 2 receiver behind him. Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree formed a dynamic unit last season (particularly in the postseason), but having a second traditional wide receiver that can contribute is huge.
The 49ers have struggled to develop pass-catching threats behind Crabtree and Davis. Last season, Delanie Walker was a decent option, and Randy Moss still managed to command some double-teams, but it's been a long time since the 49ers had two strong wide receiver options. In 2002, Terrell Owens had 100 catches for 1,300 yards, and Tai Streets had 72 catches for 756 yards. In 2000, TO had 97 catches for 1,451 yards, and Jerry Rice had 75 catches for 805 yards.
The last couple years, aside from Randy Moss drawing some double-teams, the 49ers have not gotten a whole lot of much from their wide receivers behind Crabtree. I don't know that it has been the primary reason they've come up short in the postseason, but it certainly hasn't helped. Adding Anquan Boldin draws away defenders, and opens things up for Crabtree and Davis. We saw Davis struggle on Monday, but unlike in years' past, Boldin was there to pick up the slack behind Crabtree. That's a nice little addition, I must say!