Entries in Michael Crabtree (5)


Raiders: A brawl, a rain storm, a victory

By Art Spander

OAKLAND — Where did Ken Norton watch the game? We know that for the first time in three seasons it wasn’t from the Raiders sidelines. We also know that the Raider defense, the one under the direction of Norton until early last week, on Sunday finally recorded its first interception of the season — in the 11th game — and Oakland played its best defense in a while.

How much did that have to do with head coach Jack Del Rio dumping Norton as defensive coordinator and replacing him with John Pagano? How much did that have to do with facing the quarterback-challenged Denver Broncos?

Maybe some of both. Maybe none of either. After all, the talk was that Del Rio really makes the calls on defense.

He or Pagano made the right ones on a rainy Sunday at the Coliseum. At least until the fourth quarter. It was Oakland’s game from the start, and then, whew, after a great call and maneuver on a third-and-eight from the Raider 15 with two and half minutes to go, Derek Carr to Cordarrelle Patterson for 54 yards, it was Oakland’s game at the end, 21-14.

It wasn’t the Patriots the Raiders were playing. Or the Redskins. Or even the Colts, teams that had beaten Oakland. But the victory cannot be dismissed. Especially with Kansas City losing again — five of the last six — and leaving the Raiders at 5-6, only one game behind the 6-5 Chiefs.

The teams play in two weekends at K.C., where Oakland never wins. Still, with the New York Giants coming to the Coliseum on Sunday, and even the 49ers beat the Giants, the Raiders would appear in better position for the playoffs than a few days back.

“Nice to be able to deliver,” said Del Rio, “and come out with a hard-fought victory.”

And he didn’t mean the near-brawl that began some three minutes into the game, when Oakland receiver Michael Crabtree, carrying a year’s grudge, went after Denver cornerback Aqib Talib, apparently because last season Talib grabbed a chain hanging from Crabtree’s neck.

Before anyone knew it, they and numerous others were punching and grabbing along the Broncos’ sideline. When the battling finally stopped, Crabtree, Talib and Oakland guard Gabe Jackson had been ejected. “We can’t afford to lose one of our top receivers and then our starting guard," said Del Rio. “I like to count on my guys to do the right thing.”

Which their teammates did on the field, on defense, Denver gaining only 51 yards its first 10 offensive plays, and on offense, the Raiders totaling 348 yards, 67 of those on 26 carries by the guy nicknamed Beast Mode, the local, Marshawn Lynch — who also caught three passes for 44 yards.

“We wanted to possess the ball,” Del Rio said — which definitely they managed to do, keeping it almost 36 minutes of the total 60.

“We wanted to run the ball,” he said. “I think I made a statement earlier in the week that Marshawn coming back from the one-game suspension, I feel like he’s come back with more purpose, resolve, whatever it might be. He’s come back operating in a way that’s good for us. Very decisive and very purposeful about his running and approach.”

You’d never find out as much from the subject himself. Lynch rarely talks.  

Crabtree was tossed, and Oakland’s other key receiver, Amari Cooper, was leveled in the second quarter by Darien Stewart on what was called unnecessary roughness. Cooper left with what was believed to be a concussion.

“It was a vicious hit,” Del Rio insisted. “The kind we’re trying to remove from the game. Those are the kinds of impact hits that don’t need to be part of the game. The guy is clearly defenseless and got targeted right in the head.”

The Raiders will learn more about Cooper‘s recovery and about Crabtree’s penalty as the days go. What they already learned was that, when needed, they can perform.

“We had all three phases contribute,” said Del Rio. “When you’re dropping four punts inside the 10 like we did tonight, that’s a good thing for field position. Offensively, when you‘re able to rush 37 times, that means we were possessing the ball.”

He neglected specifically to point out passing, quarterback Derek Carr going 18 of 24 for 253 yards and two touchdowns.

“I thought there was a certainty, decisiveness. Play fast. Play very fast.”

And, of course, win.


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.”


One game may have changed it all for Raiders

By Art Spander

OAKLAND — One game. One game that ended differently. One game that for the Oakland Raiders may have washed away dozens of games. One game that changed the hopes and vibes of a football team that of late always found way to lose, but on a Sunday that could turn out to be seminal — as well as memorable — found a way to win.

For nearly 58 minutes, the Oakland Raiders had been ahead or tied. Then, after an interception, the mistake the Raiders always seem destined to make, they trailed by three points. And a still loyal but all too realistic crowd at Coliseum knew it the same old Raiders.

But the kid who threw the interception, Derek Carr, was thinking these Raiders were different. “I was just thinking, man, just give us a chance,” he said. “Please, Lord, give us a chance.”

He got that chance. The Raiders got that chance. With 26 seconds left, Carr connected with Seth Roberts in the south end zone, the Black Hole end zone. The Raiders, the hard-luck, how-are-they-going-to-screw-up-this-time Raiders, were winners, 37-33.

Carr is the second-year quarterback in whom the Raiders have placed their future. The choice appears to be brilliant. We know his background: the younger brother of David Carr, also a quarterback, also from Fresno State, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2002 draft by Houston.

But lineage is only so important. What would Derek do when he had to pull off the winning drive, had to be another Joe Montana or Ken Stabler or Tom Brady?

After Sunday, after the Raiders, who looked so bad a week ago in the opening game, evened their record at 1-1, we have a very good idea. He moved the Raiders 80 yards. On a hot day — it was 90 degrees by the Bay — Carr was properly cool, as successful QBs must be.

This after leaving last week’s game with a hand injury and leaving journalists to ask numerous questions about his condition that went unanswered by head coach Jack Del Rio.

“One week of people thinking I’m hiding something, or whatever,” said Del Rio. “It was a normal week. He threw the ball well and prepared hard. There was just a lot because he couldn’t finish last week … It’s a testament to his desire and willingness to do the extra things to get his body to recover.”

The Raiders, so steeped in nostalgia and, in the last decade, failure. The torch up on the plaza adjacent to the south stands is lighted each game — Sunday it was by the great lineman Art Thoms — to the memory of the late Al Davis. The frustrated fans who, declining in number, still show up at a stadium the team is threatening to desert. The thoughts of the way it used to be back in the 1970s and 80s, when the Raiders were the NFL’s bad guys, and Davis relished that concept.

Yet, sports are of the moment. The Raiders haven’t had a winning record in more than a decade, and after the 33-13 pummeling eight days earlier, you might have thought they never would have one. But the Del Rio influence cannot be underestimated. He came home, having grown up in neighboring Hayward, to restore the heart of a franchise he cheered for as a kid.

Now he has his first victory as a Raiders head coach, and although that was passed over because of the performance of Carr — 30 of 46 for 351 yards and three touchdowns, including the ultimate one — surely that meant something to contemplate.

“That was one heck of an effort,” said Del Rio, emphasizing the team rather than the individual. “I saw a lot of examples of guys really emptying their bucket, a phrase that says they really had given all they had — straining, not flinching in tough circumstances, finding a way.

“The head coach and the quarterback are the only two guys in the organization directly tied to wins and losses, and to see our young quarterback take our team down there to the end like that was special.”

Michael Crabtree, the receiver late of the 49ers, said “The quarterback stuck in their like everybody else. The offensive line did good. The running backs made extra plays. The wide receivers were out there doing all they can.”

Carr did what he had to do, especially after the interception with five minutes to play and the game tied, 30-30.

“I told the guys in the huddle to believe it,” said Carr. “We’ve done it a thousand times.”

In practice. Now they’ve done it a game. What a change.


SF Chronicle 49ers Insider App: On the Brink

By Art Spander
49ers Insider, San Francisco Chronicle iPad App

NEW ORLEANS – He was angry. He was proud. The call went against him, went against Jim Harbaugh, went against the 49ers. They had lost the Super Bowl. The unblemished record was no more. The dream was finished.

And yet Harbaugh saw what we saw, a football team, a 49ers team, which was dead in the water, which trailed by three touchdowns and came within a play of victory.

“We were right on the brink of winning it,” said Harbaugh. He’s not a could-have, might-have sort of guy. He’s absolute, unforgiving. This time he also was correct.

Right on the brink. Right where a Joe Montana or a Steve Young might have pulled it. Right where a Colin Kaepernick could not quite do it.

Harbaugh, after again losing to his brother John, the Ravens coach -- in 2011 in a regular season game, this time, Sunday night in Super Bowl XLVII, 34-31 -- was frustrated and disappointed, honest and, yes, angry.

They say never to let a game or tennis match, any sporting event, come down to an official’s call, because then you’re at the mercy of someone making a judgment. Yet that’s exactly what occurred.

Fourth down and goal. Fourth down and five yards from probable victory, although with 1 minute 46 seconds remaining and Joe Flacco – the game’s MVP – at quarterback for the Ravens, who knows?

Kaepernick, rolling hot after a mediocre start, a start echoed by the supposedly efficient 49er defense, threw toward Michael Crabtree in the end zone. Crabtree couldn’t get to the ball, couldn’t get there because TV replays showed he was seemingly held by Baltimore’s Jimmy Smith.

Harbaugh went ballistic. He yanked at his cap. He screwed up his face in a grimace beyond description. He shouted at the official. He went unheard, and the 49ers went winless, incurring their first loss in a Super Bowl after success the previous five times.

“We want to handle this with class and grace,” said Harbaugh, not exactly the epitome of either when displeased. “We had several opportunities to win the game. We didn’t play our best game. We competed and battled back. Yes, there’s no question in my mind that there was pass interference and then a hold on the last one.”

This was not a game we expected the 49ers to play, to get beat by Flacco on third-down passes, to turn the ball over on a fumble by LaMichael James and an interception by Kaepernick, to give up a 108-yard kickoff return to open the second half and fall behind, 28-6.

Yet, conversely, this was the game we did expect the 49ers to play, to hang in, to hold on, to wake up the echoes, and the 49ers fans among the 71,024 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. There was Kaepernick finding Crabtree, there was Frank Gore slipping into the end zone, there was David Akers kicking his third field goal of the game. Suddenly, 28-6, was 28-23.

Kaepernick, with 302 yards, joined Montana and Young as Niners quarterbacks who have completed more than 300 yards passing in a Super Bowl game. Kaepernick, with 62 yards rushing, did not join Montana and Young as Niners quarterbacks who have won Super Bowls.

There was a touch of the surreal to the game, and not only because the Ravens had the ball some five minutes more than San Francisco or because Flacco picked apart the Niners' secondary.

But because late in the third quarter there was a power outage at the Superdome, half the lights over the field and all the television sets and Internet connections going out for 34 minutes. It was similar to what happened Dec. 19, 2011 at Candlestick Park before and during a 49ers-Steelers game.

When power was restored for a Super Bowl game which would last 4 hours 14 minutes – but was one play short for San Francisco – the Niners started their rally. “We got a spark,” said Harbaugh, “and we weren’t going to look back after that.”

Others will. They’ll wonder why, after a two-week break and numerous practices, on the first play from scrimmage, a 20-yard pass from Kaepernick to Vernon Davis, Davis was penalized for lining up in an illegal formation. They’ll wonder why the final sequence was composed of three straight incomplete passes from Kaepernick.

And, as Harbaugh, they’ll wonder about the non-call. But Crabtree will not, to his credit.

“It was the last play,” said Crabtree, “and I’m not going to blame it on the refs.”

Neither will Kaepernick. “We had to score,” said the quarterback. “The fourth down play wasn’t the original option. It’s something I audibled at the line, based on the look they gave us. I was just trying to give (Crabtree) a chance.”

He gave him one. He gave the 49ers one. They were unable to take advantage of it.

Copyright 2013 San Francisco Chronicle


SF Chronicle 49ers Insider: San Francisco: We Have An Air Game

By Art Spander
49ers Insider, San Francisco Chronicle iPad App

One starts with the ball. If everything is in synch, the other inevitably ends with it. There’s the quarterback, now for the 49ers Colin Kaepernick, and his favorite receiver, also known as the security blanket. Michael Crabtree. It’s always been thus.

There was Y.A. Tittle and Billy Wilson, Joe Montana and Dwight Clark, before it became Montana and Jerry Rice. Before it became Steve Young and Jerry Rice. “The two of you work together so much,” Young has said, echoing others, “you can answer each other’s sentences.”

What Michael Crabtree has answered, if in actions but not words, is the Niners' need for a deep threat, the individual with the moves and speed to get to the ball and the hands to clutch it.

They were a beautiful combination last weekend against the Arizona Cardinals, Kaepernick completing 16 passes for 276 yards and two touchdowns, Crabtree, the diva humbled, grabbing 8 of those for 172 yards – to total 1,105 for the season, ninth best in the NFL – and both the touchdowns.

“I was really impressed watching the game in person,” Niners coach Jim Harbaugh, a one-time pro quarterback himself, said on radio station KNBR, “and then I watched the TV copy when I got home, but the coaches' film copy was even better. The two of them really deserve to be highlighted."

“The throws that Colin made, the catches that Michael made, those were incredible grabs and he did a tremendous job getting open in several different ways – beating his man at the line in press coverage, creating separation downfield, the incredible one-handed catch, run after the catch. And then Colin was putting the ball, in four of those cases, in the only place it could have been. So they deserved to be highlighted. Those were huge plays and both of them did a great job.”

A job Crabtree, the No. 10 pick in the 2009 draft was expected to be doing. A job, Kaepernick, the No. 36 pick in the 2011 draft – and still irritated he wasn’t chosen until the second round – has shown he could do.

Crabtree could lord it over people a little too much, even if he had some justification. After only one season at Texas Tech, he was being called a Heisman candidate. And that spectacular play against Texas on Nov. 1, 2008, when Crabtree made the catch just inside the sideline, spun around Curtis Brown and scored the winning TD with one second left was not only voted the Big 12 Play of the Season but remains a YouTube favorite.

Supposedly, he would be picked by the Raiders at No. 7 the next spring, but the late Al Davis never followed protocol or the thoughts of others. Oakland drafted Darius Heyward-Bey, and so the Niners eagerly chose Crabtree. Who lorded it over them, with a long holdout before signing.

The first two years, Crabtree wasn’t so much a bust as non-entity. He improved in 2011, taking directions from Harbaugh, the rookie coach, and passes from Alex Smith, the revitalized QB. Still, the Niners were limited in throwing to wide receivers, Crabtree catching a lone pass for three yards.

Crabtree’s work through the offseason was evident even in the early games with Smith at quarterback. Then when Kaepernick, a bit quicker, a bit stronger than Smith, took over, the connection seemed perfect.

“My dude (Kaepernick) made it happen,” Crabtree said of becoming the sixth person in Niners history with at least 85 catches a season. The others: Rice, Clark, Roger Craig, Terrell Owens and Derek Loville.

“I’m just going out there running routes, catching the ball until I make a play.”

That’s what Niners management appreciates about Crabtree. And Kaepernick. The ability to make plays. The ability halfway through the second quarter to jolt the team into action and, after trailing 6-0, into the lead with a 49-yard touchdown pass.

“It was something we practiced at home, using my technique,” said Crabtree, who at first showed a surprise reluctance to discuss his recent success – and then almost couldn’t be stopped.

“Kaepernick threw me the ball. He’s real good with his feet and made something happen and really, really made the play.”

True or false, and there’s a degree of either, because pass plays like the tango take two (discounting blockers that is), and Crabtree can spin great tales about his own great moves. And plans.

“I think I can be a Pro Bowler,” said Crabtree. “I think I can. Now I’m trying to get to the Super Bowl.”

The next step is the NFC Divisional Playoff Jan. 12 at Candlestick, against the Green Bay Packers.

“You have to treat the playoffs like every other game,” said Kaepernick.

What you don’t do is treat Michael Crabtree like every other receiver. Because he’s not like every other. He’s Kaepernick’s main man.

Copyright 2013 San Francisco Chronicle