San Francisco 49ers

On 49ers: A hot December would be very cool for 49ers’ prospects

S Recognizing that most of you are just now emerging from tryptophan– and cranberry sauce-induced stupors – I won’t test your attention spans. Instead, as you struggle into your stretch pants, here are some quick hits about the 49ers as they head into the last leg of the season.

•  The key phrase in December will be “get hot.” That is, can the 49ers emulate the Baltimore Ravens and New York Giants and carry late-season momentum through the playoffs and onto the Super Bowl winner’s podium?

A rapidly expanding roster – at a key position – certainly suggests that’s possible. Not only is wide receiver Michael Crabtree expected back, perhaps Sunday against the St. Louis Rams, but good-looking rookie Quinton Patton is not far behind as he returns from a broken foot.

At some point during the offseason, the 49ers brass concluded that their top four receivers were Crabtree, Anquan Boldin, Mario Manningham and Patton. Four months into the season, that group will finally be together.

With Aldon Smith rounding into form, Patrick Willis finally getting over injuries and other starters – Tarell Brown, Mike Iupati and Ray McDonald – coming back soon, the stars seem to be aligning at just the right time.

•  Crabtree is key. A completely healthy Crabtree would be like having two Boldins on the field, and defenses this season hardly can contend with one Boldin. He’s on pace for more receiving yards than he’s had since 2006.

But can Crabtree possibly be back at full speed following a complete rupture of his Achilles’ tendon a little more than six months ago, and perhaps more to the point, should the 49ers allow him to try? Crabtree’s game is built on suddenness – stops, starts and cuts – and there’s growing evidence his lower legs can’t handle the stress.

Since they drafted him, Crabtree has dealt with a broken left foot on two separate occasions and now is coming back from a torn right Achilles’. That is, how hard can – and should – Crabtree push himself so soon after another severe injury?

•  Most mind-boggling fact of the 49ers’ season? They are 7-4 heading into Week 13 and yet only Boldin and tight end Vernon Davis have caught touchdown passes. Last year, seven 49ers caught touchdown passes and seven is the average number of per-team touchdown catchers in the NFL.

Two teams – Atlanta and New Orleans – have 10 different players with touchdown catches. The team with the next-fewest number of touchdown catchers is the Raiders. They have four.

•  The difference between 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and his counterpart, Robert Griffin III of the Redskins, could be seen in the grass stains on their uniforms. Sure, Kaepernick was hauled down a few times Monday in Washington, but it wasn’t close to the beating Griffin – last seen sprawling 10 yards out of bounds – received.

What’s alarming is that has become a typical outing for Griffin, who finished his rookie season with tears to the ACL and LCL of his right knee. Say what you will about the 49ers’ offense, which has had an up-and-down season so far, but it doesn’t expose their quarterback of the future to many big hits – in sharp contrast to the Redskins’ offense.

Kaepernick may not be having the season, in Year 2 as the 49ers’ starter, that everyone expected. But at least it seems likely he’ll make it to Year 3.

•  Donte Whitner wants the big hits for which he and Ahmad Brooks were penalized and fined this season to be subject to replay review. This is a terrible, terrible idea in a game already bogged down by timeouts, post-kickoff commercial breaks, two-minute warnings, ill-conceived coach’s challenges and automatic booth reviews.

Watching referee Ron Winter trot – at .047 mph – back and forth from the field to the sideline to watch a play over and over in slow motion is agony. Hearing Mike Mayock’s micro-jargon analysis about whether the tip of the ball hits the ground at the end of a catch is excruciating.

Furthermore, replay would not have overturned the calls against Whitner and Brooks. Were both penalties ticky tacky? Yes. But both were technically illegal as the rules are written. The only thing worse than a review that disrupts the rhythm of the game is a review that disrupts the rhythm and then merely upholds the call on the field.