Sunday standout: The sixth-year veteran made the big plays that set up both of the 49ers first two scores on his way to finishing with game-high totals of eight receptions for 114 yards – more than half of San Francisco’s final game total of 226 yards. During a day when yards and points weren’t coming easily for San Francisco, Davis sparked the offense by reeling in a 39-yard pass from quarterback Alex Smith on a deep corner route with 6:59 left in the third quarter to give the 49ers a first-and-goal at the Cincinnati 6-yard line. It was San Francisco’s longest offensive play of the season and also gave the Niners their first trip of the afternoon into the red zone, leading to a field goal that tied the score 3-3. With the 49ers trailing 6-3 and time winding down in the fourth quarter, Davis sold his block-down attempt at the line of scrimmage as Smith rolled right, then slipped back to the left and was wide open for Smith’s throw back across the field. Davis took the reception 20 yards to the Cincinnati 7-yard line, setting up Kendall Hunter’s game-winning touchdown run two plays later. Davis had a key block at the end of that run to spring Hunter into the end zone, and he also had two eight-yard receptions earlier on the 10-play, 72-yard drive that led to the game’s only touchdown. Davis was targeted nine times during the game and made several of his catches despite tight coverage with four of them going for first downs. Davis’ 22-yard catch-and-run gave San Francisco its initial first down of the game with 3:40 left in the first quarter, and he caught a third-down pass for another first down to get San Francisco’s offense moving on its final drive of the first half.
Season to date: Davis has been the Niners’ leading receiver in two of their three games and is the team’s runaway leader after three weeks with 15 receptions for 179 yards receiving, with both totals more than double those recorded by any other San Francisco player. Davis’ receiving figures against the Bengals both are single-game highs for the 49ers this season. Davis currently ranks fifth among all NFL tight ends in receptions and is tied for 24th among all NFL players. He has a team-high four receptions of 20 yards or more this season and seven of his catches have gone for first downs.
Need to note: Davis had his sixth 100-yard receiving game against the Bengals, tying Monty Stickles’ franchise record among tight ends. His reception and yardage totals both were the second-highest of Davis’ career for a single game. Davis is the only tight end in franchise history to lead the 49ers in receptions, receiving yards and touchdown receptions in two consecutive seasons, leading the team in those categories each of the past two years. Davis had career-high totals of 78 receptions for 965 yards and 13 TDs in 2009, setting franchise records for a tight end in the latter two categories and tying the NFL record for TD receptions by a tight end. He is the first tight end during the Super Bowl era to lead the NFL in TD receptions. Davis started for the NFC at tight end in the 2009 Pro Bowl and gained recognition as a Pro Bowl alternate last season.
Davis says: “We just had to get it going our first time traveling this season, and once guys got it adjusted and we got rolling it was all good, we were able to make plays and just respond. I was just making plays and stepping up, doing exactly what I was told, whether it was blocking, pass protecting, or just making plays downfield. It was an honor to come out here and be able to help this team win.”
Coach Jim Harbaugh says: “I thought Vernon performed very well. He had some more opportunities, balls coming his way. Vernon’s always involved in this offense, a huge part of the offense. Vernon Davis has got a big heart, that’s what I’ve learned. He is a strong, mighty man. He wants the team to do well. He wants to win. That’s what I’ve learned about Vernon. And a lot of times people see the catches and they say Vernon’s involved, Vernon had a good game because he caught the football. What I don’t think most people see is the blocks, the dominant blocker than Vernon is and can be. He is a huge part of our offense.”
Offensive coordinator Greg Roman says: “I don’t know if I’ve been around an athlete that’s more explosive than him at any point of my career. Vernon is very explosive. He can go from zero to sixty when he needs to. He can rev up the engine in a hurry. Vernon is a great person, great to work with, very attentive, very much interested in the details of things, always looking for the ways to get better. Just an all-around asset to have and really enjoy, really thankful that he’s here and a 49er.”
Looking forward: Davis is set to make his 63rd consecutive start for the 49ers at tight end this week at Philadelphia. Davis is on pace to lead the Niners in receptions and receiving yards for the third consecutive season and will continue to be a central figure in the team’s offense in general and passing attack in particular. After three games, Davis is on pace for a career-high 80 receptions and 955 yards receiving, 10 short of his career high.
ALSO CONSIDERED: LB NaVorro Bowman (game-high 11 tackles, one QB hit, one ST tackle); CB Carlos Rogers (four tackles, two passes defensed, interception late in fourth quarter to set up a 49ers field goal); LB Patrick Willis (eight tackles, one pass defensed); RB Kendall Hunter (game-winning seven-yard touchdown run, 38 yards rushing and receiving).
2011 NOTW LIST: Week 1: KR/WR Ted Ginn Jr. Week 2: QB Alex Smith. Week 3: TE Vernon Davis.