Anquan Boldin's most important reception on Sunday involved so much more than catching the ball.
The 4th-and-2 play late in the fourth quarter was designed to be a quick hitter from Colin Kaepernick to Boldin in the flat. He was covered, however, and he and Kaepernick had to improvise. As the quarterback pump faked and drifted toward the sideline, Boldin gave cornerback Tramon Williams a shove that created the separation Kaepernick was looking for.
Gain of 15 yards. First down 49ers. Game in hand.
The play was vintage Boldin: Calm and clutch, but also showing how savvy, tough and - most of all - how strong he is. "We found that out during training camp," cornerback Perrish Cox said. "He's strong, talented and he knows how to use his body perfectly."
Boldin is one of the most compelling figures in Sunday's game against the Seahawks because he'll be matched up against the most physical and suffocating secondary in the NFL. That punishing style was on display when the 49ers visited Seattle last season. While the 49ers were uncharacteristically shoved around as a team in the 42-13 loss, their pass catchers were roughed up in particular.
Tight end Vernon Davis was knocked out of the game with a concussion in the first quarter after a big hit by safety Kam Chancellor. Receiver Mario Manningham was knocked out for the season with an ACL injury, an injury from which he is still recovering.
In two games against Seattle last year, the 49ers' entire wide receiving corps combined for 14 catches and zero touchowns. Boldin, meanwhile, had 13 catches alone in last week's game against the Packers.
No one expects him to duplicate the 208-yard effort he had against Green Bay. The Packers defense was dedicated to stopping the run, it played a loose zone and trotted out two inexperienced safeties against the 49ers. The Seahawks like to play stifling, man-to-man coverage and have perhaps the best safety duo in the game in Chancellor and Earl Thomas.
But Boldin ought to bring some muscle and attitude that was missing in last year's trip to Seattle. Clay Matthews and Joe Staley were the headliners in the sideline melee that ensued after Matthews' late hit on Kaepernick Sunday. But Boldin was in the middle of it, too, throwing defensive backs aside as if they were made of straw. He also was stalking the sideline during the game, exhorting teammates and thanking offensive line for its blocking.
"It feels great to have him," Harbaugh said after the Packers game. "We did give up a draft choice for him and we're paying him a lot of money. But definitely think he's worth every penny. I think he's worth every penny."
- Matt Barrows