Immediately after his one-catch performance in the NFC Championship game a year ago, an exasperated Michael Crabtree said he hadn't been given enough opportunities in the narrow loss.
"You've got to give people chances to make plays," Crabtree said in a somber Candlestick Park locker room that night. "You've got to make plays ... Half the time, you ain't going to be open. That's why they call them playmakers. You give them chances. I can't say anything else."
Crabtree hasn't forgotten those words, and he's not backing away from them, either. But the wide receiver has said in recent weeks that he shares responsibility for the loss to the Giants a year ago, and that the failure is very much in the front of his mind as the 49ers return to the playoffs on Saturday.
"With how bad I did last year, in my opinion, I feel like I didn't do what I was supposed to do," he said after the regular-season finale. "I feel like I get another chance. We're back again and ready to win."
Crabtree had one catch for three yards against the Giants. A week earlier against the Saints, he caught a touchdown pass but also had three drops in the game. This year, the wideout has been perhaps the team's most reliable offensive weapon. He's has had the best season of his career, and he became the first 49ers receiver since Terrell Owens in 2003 to surpass 1,000 receiving yards.
What's notable is his connection with Colin Kaepernick.
More than half of Crabtree's total receiving yards - 595 yards - have come in the seven games started by Kaepernick. Three of his four 100-plus yard receiving performances this season, and five of his nine touchdowns also have come with Kaepernick throwing him the ball.
Crabtree's comments from a year ago were interpreted as a swipe at the quarterback at the time, Alex Smith, who will be in a back-up role Saturday against the Packers. Crabtree steered clear of any quarterback comparisons Wednesday.
Asked if "this quarterback" - meaning Kaepernick - likes to look in his direction as far as the passing game, Crabtree sensed the trap "This quarterback?" Crabtree said. "I wouldn't put it like that. I would just say we're making a lot of plays on Sunday."
Still, Crabtree recalled without prompting what he said after last year's NFC Championship game and didn't shrink from the message - the 49ers need to take advantage of their chances.
"We were just talking about opportunity (today), and I said something about that after the game last year, and I meant it, you know?" Crabtree said. "Because I'm a football player and this is what I do for a living. And I love it. I feel like this year is different, it's a different year. I feel all we have to do is go out there and do our jobs."
Seizing the moment has been a theme for the 49ers. Receiver Randy Moss, who has played in 12 playoff games in 13 previous years and who never has won a Super Bowl, spoke in front of his teammates this week, telling them that postseason chances can be fleeting.
"(He said), you really don't get too many opportunities like this, so let's try to go out and do it," said running back Frank Gore of Moss. "And that's a fact. There's no guarantee we're going to be in the postseason every year."
Crabtree said he feels the same way, and he's fueled by what happened a year ago. "It drove us a lot," he said. "I feel like we need to win. I want to go to the Super Bowl. I want to do all those things, but we have to take it one game at a time. Green Bay is in front of us right now. We just need to take care of our business."
- Matt Barrows