Anquan Boldin, who six years ago absorbed a blow to the head so vicious 40 screws were needed to fix his face, had the ball in his hands at the critical point late in Sunday’s game with an opponent rocketing toward his head.
The hit by Washington safety Ryan Clark was so forceful it staggered both men, with Clark dropping face-first to the ground. He lay there for several seconds after the play, had to be helped up by teammates and eventually jogged off the field.
Boldin? “My mindset was just, after the hit, score,” the 49ers wide receiver said.
He somehow stayed on his feet after the collision, picking up another 6 yards for a 29-yard play before he was brought down.
Two snaps later, Boldin caught a 10-yard pass, which set up Carlos Hyde’s 4-yard touchdown run with 2:59 left that gave the 49ers a 17-13 victory.
Before Boldin’s big catch, the game had all the earmarks of the 49ers’ languid, error-riddled home loss to St. Louis three weeks earlier.
The catch also left no doubt about who provides the leadership on the 49ers’ offense.
Following the loss to the Rams, which left the 49ers 4-4, Boldin stood in front of his teammates and told them they had to treat each of the remaining games as if they were a one-game season or else their playoff hopes would evaporate.
The speech has become a rallying cry for San Francisco, which hasn’t lost since. None of the wins has been impressive. Each has been by less than a touchdown with the team’s defense outperforming – by a wide margin – its talented but mistake-prone counterparts on offense.
But they have been wins, and they have given the 49ers (7-4) a bit of momentum entering Thursday’s showdown against a Seattle team that also is 7-4 and fighting for a playoff berth.
“Good teams win those kind of games,” coach Jim Harbaugh said. “Proud of our guys. By any means necessary. That’s how we’re looking for wins.”
The 49ers enjoyed commanding victories against weakened opponents in recent seasons, but those kind of wins have eluded them this year. Early in Sunday’s game, the 49ers appeared set for a blowout as Colin Kaepernick hit Boldin for an 18-yard gain on the team’s opening series, then found him open in the corner of the end zone for a 30-yard score.
But after that point, the offense fell into a familiar midgame stupor. One drive ended with a fumble by Hyde, his first of the year. Another was foiled by a fumble by Frank Gore, his second in as many games.
Washington (3-8) entered the contest without one of its starting cornerbacks, then lost two more to injury early in the game. Kaepernick, however, had trouble taking advantage. When he went after replacement cornerback Greg Ducre, an undrafted rookie whom Washington added to its roster last month, Ducre made an interception, and the sinking 49ers offense seemed as if it would take the entire team to the bottom with it.
But Boldin has been Kaepernick’s most reliable target throughout the season – on third downs, whenever the 49ers have needed momentum – and the quarterback looked in his direction again with a 13-10 deficit and just under five minutes remaining.
“He’s proven time and time again that he’s a reliable receiver,” said Kaepernick, who finished 20 of 29 for 256 yards. “He’s always a person that’s going to make big plays, and he did right there for his team.”
The throw on the 29-yarder to Boldin was Kaepernick’s best of the game. He hit Boldin in stride between defenders Trenton Robinson and Clark, whose helmet-to-helmet blow resulted in a 15-yard penalty and what Washington coach Jay Gruden later said was a shoulder stinger.
With Arizona in 2008, Boldin was in a similar situation against the New York Jets with the impact having vastly different and more dire results.
Boldin was taken off the field on a gurney after being sandwiched by two defenders, and four days later he had surgery to repair a fractured sinus membrane and realign his jaw.
But even that experience couldn’t rattle Boldin. He missed just two games following the surgery and helped the Cardinals reach the Super Bowl.
On Sunday, he said he didn’t – couldn’t – think about the collision against New York with the game on the line
“For me, if I’m thinking about a hit that happened five, six (years ago), I don’t belong,” said Boldin, who made nine catches for 137 yards, both game highs. “If I’m thinking about that, then I’m really not going to be making plays. I don’t plan on being cautious. That’s not the way I play football. I’m an all-out type of guy.”
Read Matt Barrows’ blogs and archives at www.sacbee.com/sf49ers.