49ers' loss of Crabtree is Raiders' gain

By Art Spander

OAKLAND — Halfway across the country, his former team was losing another game and maybe, considering the dismay of 49ers fans, losing face. But Michael Crabtree seems unconcerned with any sort of retribution.

On his best day as an Oakland Raider, maybe his best day as a pro football receiver, 12 catches for 102 yards and a touchdown, he spoke only of progress, the Raiders' progress — not his own.

Everything is going beautifully for the Raiders, who have escaped their seasons of agony. On Sunday, with Crabtree getting open and with second-year quarterback Derek Carr getting him and others the ball — and throwing four TD passes — the Raiders beat the New York Jets, 34-20.

Impressive stuff for a franchise so long trapped in misery, a franchise that no matter how successful it is in the Bay Area will always be the NFL stepchild to the Niners. Now the Raiders, still playing in the O.Co Coliseum while their future is debated, are flying high while the Niners, beaten 27-6 by the Rams at St. Louis, are by comparison a disgrace.

Crabtree, 28, is a link between the two franchises, in more than one way. Entering the 2009 draft early after setting records at Texas Tech, he was on the board when the Raiders instead opted for Darrius Heyward-Bey of Maryland, another receiver. So the 49ers took him with the 10th pick overall.

Then after years of mixed production, last spring he was a free agent. The Niners no longer wanted him, but the Raiders, who had blown the opportunity once, signed him. So far, so very good. He’s not only become a target, he’s become a mentor to super rookie Amari Cooper.

Preparing to leave the locker room after getting into his civilian clothes, Crabtree, wearing a backpack, was halted by a phalanx of media. He probably deserved a better location for a debriefing, but this is sport, not Hollywood or Washington. Informality is a constant.

“We have a lot of weapons,” said Crabtree, trying to spread the glory. Indeed, there’s Taiwan Jones, who caught a Carr pass near the sideline and slipped and sped by what is supposed to be a great Jets pass defense — hey, Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie are the corners — for 59 yards and a TD. Andre Holmes caught two for touchdowns.

“The Jets' defense challenged us,” said Crabtree. “We have a lot of guys who want those extra yards. There’s a will to win. We try to make something happen.”

This was a second straight win in for the Raiders, who now have a 4-3 record. This was a chance to flummox a team that a week earlier had played competently against the best team in pro football, the Patriots, losing only 30-23.

“You see where we’re getting better,” said Carr. “I have to go back (to the video) and compare/contrast. But you see the growth, obviously.”

Carr said he told Crabtree, the vet, the family man, that he played with “daddy strength.” It was an interesting analogy.

“When you’re a father,” said Carr, “there’s an extra strength that you have, and he played with that today.”

When teams win, everybody is satisfied. Praise bounces around like, well, a football after a punt. Still, you sense a feeling of accomplishment and a degree of humility from the Raider players. They have accepted the principles of new head coach Jack Del Rio that it’s a team game, and as great as any individual might be, the group is what counts.

Crabtree, also schooled by Jim Harbaugh with the Niners, has bought into the concept. “It’s not just about one guy,” said Crabtree.

Del Rio said he likes what Crabtree has brought to the Raiders. “Michael has been a real pro,” said the coach. “We love having him. He’s come in from day one and really hit in our locker room. He’s been a great teammate, does everything we ask.”

Crabtree had an Achilles injury in 2013 that kept him out of much of that season with the Niners. And in 2014 some said that he had lost his explosives, with only two 100-yard reception games after recovering. His highest single-game yardage total in 2014 was just 85.

But he had the 102 Sunday against the Jets, so it’s apparent the Raiders made a wise decision in signing Crabtree.

“He works his tail off,” said Del Rio. “He’s been a greater example for Coop. And he’s making plays. He’s doing more than just being a mentor. He’s having a nice year for us.”

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