ATLANTA Last week in the divisional playoffs, Seattle tight end Zach Miller had eight catches for 142 yards and a touchdown against the Falcons.
Vernon Davis said he watched that game two or three times in the 49ers' film room, his mouth watering a little more with every replay.
On Sunday, Davis who had virtually disappeared from the 49ers' passing offense this season got a similar opportunity, reminding everyone of his playoff heroics from a year ago and nearly single-handedly keeping the 49ers in the game in the first half. The tight end finished with a touchdown and 106 yards one yard more than he had in the previous seven games combined.
"We always tell Vernon: Sooner or later, my friend, it's coming," offensive coordinator Greg Roman said. "And it came (Sunday)."
Mike Nolan took Davis with the sixth overall pick in 2006 when Nolan was the 49ers' head coach. On Sunday, Nolan, now the Falcons' defensive coordinator, watched as his former pupil got loose across the middle of the field on drag routes or beat the Falcons' inside linebackers down the seam.
Asked what the biggest problem was on defense, Atlanta head coach Mike Smith didn't hesitate.
"Covering the tight end," he said. "The tight end was an issue. They made a number of explosive plays with the tight end."
After watching the 49ers gain 323 yards on the ground against the Packers on Jan. 12, Smith said the Falcons dedicated themselves to stopping Colin Kaepernick, Frank Gore and San Francisco's rushing attack.
"We did not cover the tight end as well as we needed to," he said. "Those were the plays that I felt like they made ... ."
Davis' first catch was perhaps the most critical.
With the 49ers down 17-0 early in the second quarter, Kaepernick led an 11-play drive that included a third-and-seven scenario near midfield. He hit Davis on a crossing pattern on that play, and the tight end ran down to the Atlanta 15-yard line for 27 yards. Two plays later, rookie LaMichael James got around the outside of the Falcons' defense and scooted into the end zone for his first NFL touchdown.
Davis had a 25-yard reception to the Atlanta 4-yard line on the ensuing 49ers drive. On the next play, Kaepernick faked a handoff and found Davis alone for an easy touchdown, the tight end's first since Nov. 19 against the Bears.
Early on Sunday, it seemed to be a repeat of the 2012 postseason for Davis and the 49ers' passing offense.
He finished with 10 catches, 292 yards and four touchdowns in games against the Saints and Giants a year ago, and at times Davis seemed to be the team's only threat in the passing game.
He was "Mr. January" again against the Falcons.
Davis joins former Cowboys wide receiver Michael Irvin as the only players in NFL history with 100 receiving yards in championship games in back-to-back seasons.
"He had a great game, and we were counting on him to have a great game," said fellow tight end Delanie Walker, who had a 20-yard catch in the third quarter. "We know what kind of player he is when we get into the postseason, and he showed it."