In recent days, troubling pre-playoff questions have emerged for the 49ers. Will slumping placekicker David Akers remain on the roster? Can defensive tackle Justin Smith approach something approximating his All-Pro level if he plays with a partially torn triceps? Another question isn’t new, but, like the others, it remains unanswered: When will tight end Vernon Davis reappear in the offense? A year after Davis played his best in the season’s biggest games, he appears unlikely to reprise his January heroics. At least, that is, if the past three months are any type of foreshadowing. In his final 11 regular-season games, Davis had 21 receptions and scored as many touchdowns as San Francisco safety Donte Whitner (one). His 245 receiving yards in that span were 47 fewer than he had in two playoff games last year. After torching the Saints and Giants for four touchdowns in the postseason, Davis remained hot to start 2012: After five games, he was on pace for 74 catches, 970 yards and 13 touchdowns. In mid-December, Davis theorized his torrid start inspired teams to adopt you-won’t-beat-us game plans. “The first five games of the season, I was taking off up the sideline,” Davis said. “They probably looked at film of that and said, ‘We’ve got to stop this guy.’ But I didn’t expect them to do it consistently. Normally they’ll do it, and then in a couple weeks I’ll get open. It’s not like the coaches aren’t putting things in for me – they’re putting plays in for me every week. But it just hasn’t worked out. The defenses are taking me away.” As his coaches and teammates have noted, the focus on Davis has opened up opportunities for others. In the final six-regular-season games, tight end Delanie Walker had the most receiving yards (246) in a six-game stretch of his seven-year career. Similarly, wide receiver Michael Crabtree had six-game career highs in receptions (38) and yards (564).
Meanwhile, Davis had six catches – four fewer than fullback Bruce Miller – and 61 yards in the final six-game stretch. Known for his me-first attitude early in his career, Davis, 28, has jokingly expressed frustration about his lack of catches this season. However, he has stuck with a team-oriented script when pressed about his lack of production. “I’ll do whatever it takes to help this team,” Davis said Thursday. “Right now, I just want to make it to where we’re trying to go.” Of course, if the 49ers are to reach the Super Bowl they could use more production from Davis. If he can channel last season’s playoff performance, the 49ers could overcome those other questions surrounding them.