TE Vernon Davis a record-setter for 49ers

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) - Vernon Davis has been the one constant in a season of change for the San Francisco 49ers offense.

And now he has a franchise record for tight ends to show for it.

Davis is tied for the NFL lead with 10 touchdown receptions, already the most ever by a San Francisco tight end, with four games still remaining in the season.

The fourth-year player broke the record of nine previously held by Ted Kwalik (1972) and Brent Jones (1994) with his 33-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown during last week's loss to the Seattle Seahawks.

It was a performance that has become typical this season for Davis, who had a career-high 111 yards receiving during the game. While the offense around him has struggled with changing personnel and changing schemes, Davis has flourished.

"I'd feel a lot better about it if we were winning more games, but now I want to continue to move on and break more records," Davis said.

Davis never has lacked for confidence since being selected by the 49ers with the No. 6 overall pick in the 2006 draft. But he wasn't always able to back up his boldness or meet his potential on the field during three inconsistent seasons after joining the team.

This year has been different. Davis has become an impact performer and one of the NFL's top playmakers at his position, emerging as the top threat in a San Francisco offense that ranks 28th in the league.

Davis is the team's runaway leader with 63 receptions, and his 781 yards receiving are just 44 short of the team record for a tight end. Last week's effort was Davis' third 100-yard receiving game of the season.

"He's playing really well, playing really fast, making a lot of plays for us," quarterback Alex Smith said. "He's had time to grow and understand and develop his game, and he's worked hard at it. I think you gain that confidence by doing it, and that takes time, but Vernon is doing it now."

The dimension Davis provides in the middle of the field has helped accelerate the development of San Francisco's starting wide receivers, rookie Michael Crabtree and second-year veteran Josh Morgan.

Both youngsters now see a lot of single coverage, and Morgan caught his second touchdown pass of the season last week under such circumstances while Smith recorded his first 300-yard passing game in his 36th career start.

"(Opponents) try to give (Davis) extra attention, but they usually try with the wrong people," Morgan said. "They try with a linebacker or a safety or something. But Vernon has wide receiver speed and he's big enough to out-jump a safety or anybody like that while catching the ball. He's definitely a mismatch problem and it's big out there at receiver for myself and Crabtree, because that allows us to be singled out. It's kind of a pick-your-poison type of deal."

The 49ers (5-7) will be looking for another big performance from Davis on Monday night when they host the NFC West-leading Arizona Cardinals (8-4). San Francisco needs a victory to stave off elimination in the division title chase.

Davis wasn't much of a factor in San Francisco's season-opening upset of the Cardinals, but Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt knows that has changed since the teams last met.

"There's a good feeling between the quarterback and the tight end there now," Whisenhunt said. "Hey, Vernon's a good football player. He's made plays against us every time we play them. He's certainly a threat because of his speed and his ability to get down the field."

Davis, who ranks sixth among the NFC's leaders in receptions, said his emergence is a product of opportunity. He finished with 31 receptions in 16 starts last year despite playing in the pass-happy scheme of former offensive coordinator Mike Martz.

The tight end wasn't the focus in that offense, but that has changed this year under new coordinator Jimmy Raye.

"I always expect myself to do this, to put up numbers like this," Davis said. "This is what I can do when given the opportunity. I'm just taking advantage of it. I'm getting the ball a lot more now, and I'm making a ton of plays. That's what I'm here for, to be a playmaker."


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