SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — It was a natural moment for Michael Crabtree to address his 49ers teammates — on his 25th birthday last Friday.
When asked to say a few words on the field after practice, Crabtree kindly obliged. And he surprised a few of his San Francisco colleagues with a spot-on message: The defense has been doing so much to carry San Francisco, he called for the offense to match that performance.
"He broke it down with some pretty powerful words for us on offense," left tackle Joe Staley said. "He said: 'We have this defense and we can't depend on this defense anymore. It's time to step up as an offense.' And I think everybody kind of took that to heart."
Coach Jim Harbaugh presented the wide receiver with a celebratory red velvet cupcake and hand-written card, a regular gesture for players' birthdays.
Two days later, Crabtree did his part to make good on his challenge to the team — delivering three third-down conversion catches in a 27-19 win by the 49ers (2-0) over the Lions.
His teammates certainly appreciated the thoughtful words Friday as much as they did the big plays Sunday.
"The defense gets a lot of credit, deservedly so," quarterback Alex Smith said. "Especially last season, they played at a really high level. (He) talked a lot about offense. If you can get offense, defense and special teams all rolling, you know how scary it can be. Michael is the guy who has been there, worked extremely hard. He continues to work extremely hard, and our guys look to him."
Crabtree is healthy at last, and showing his ability to make athletic possession receptions under pressure and extend plays after the catch. Detroit's aggressive, physical defense was just his style, if you ask Harbaugh.
"I think he secretly hopes it comes down to that," Harbaugh said. "I think he likes that physical part of the game because he thrives on it so well. And he's a tough, tough guy that will suck it up in a heartbeat."
Crabtree's early 17-yard catch on the left sideline set up a 21-yard touchdown pass to Vernon Davis that put the 49ers on the scoreboard 2 minutes, 35 seconds into the game.
"A lot of things can be momentum changers in the game. That was one," Crabtree said. "I get hyped every weekend about football. This is my job. I don't see big play. I just see catch the ball, every play. I wish I could tell you something special."
He has led the team in receptions in both wins so far, with the 49ers headed to Minnesota to meet the Vikings on Sunday. Against the Lions, Crabtree converted on third down with receptions of 7, 16 and 11 yards — all in the fourth quarter. Now, the Niners' No. 10 overall pick in the 2009 draft out of Texas Tech has 13 catches through two games for 143 yards. Crabtree and fellow wideout Randy Moss are complementing each other as well as anybody could ask for — and pulling some defenders away from Davis.
"As long as he's healthy, I feel that he's one of the top guys in the league," running back Frank Gore said of Crabtree. "He can do everything — catch, be physical, tough, yards after the catch, he blocks. This doesn't surprise me at all what Michael Crabtree's doing."
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