OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Wide receiver Michael Crabtree acknowledged signing with the Baltimore Ravens on Friday brings up a lot of memories (mostly bad) about that Super Bowl loss five years ago.
Crabtree’s arrival should spark some flashes about that Super Bowl for the Ravens, most notably Anquan Boldin.
Crabtree doesn’t possess great speed like Boldin, and he makes the same tough, contested catches. At 6-foot-1, 215 pounds, Crabtree is nearly the exact size as Boldin (6-1, 218), which both use expertly in the red zone.
Perhaps, most importantly, Crabtree brings the competitiveness and clutch play that some will say has been missing in the Ravens’ passing attack since Boldin last played. Crabtree’s Boldin-like impact will likely be felt in moving the chains and scoring late in games.
Crabtree has converted the ninth-most third downs (126) since he entered the league in 2009. Boldin ranks No. 6 on that list.
Over the past three years, only four players have caught more fourth-quarter touchdown passes than Crabtree (nine). Over Boldin’s 14-year career, he totaled the seventh-most fourth-quarter touchdowns with 21.
Crabtree and Boldin aren’t the same players. Boldin got open with more pure physicality, and Crabtree is more of a glider in running routes.
Still, then-49ers general manager Scot McCloughan saw the similarities when he drafted Crabtree with the No. 10 overall pick in 2009.
"He’s the closest thing that I’ve seen to Anquan Boldin in college," McCloughan told the San Jose Mercury-News nine years ago. "He’s got excellent hands. He’s got the physical attributes to play on the NFL level and to make plays. There’s faster guys in the draft, no doubt about it. There’ll be faster guys in the NFL. But he brings unique qualities. He can play physical and make plays on the NFL level."
Trading Boldin for a sixth-round pick after Baltimore’s latest Super Bowl ranks up there with the team’s highly debated dispatching of quarterback Trent Dilfer after hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in January 2001.
Joe Flacco called Boldin "a beast" in the postseason after he made clutch catch after clutch catch. Boldin caught 22 passes for 380 yards and four touchdowns in four playoff games. General manager Ozzie Newsome acknowledged a year after dealing Boldin that he never adequately replaced him.
Since cutting ties with Boldin, Baltimore ranked No. 26 in third-down conversions and No. 23 in fourth-quarter touchdowns. Flacco appeared to have chemistry with Steve Smith Sr. and Mike Wallace over the years, but it didn’t seem like Flacco trusted them as much as he did in throwing into tight windows for Boldin.
In filling that Boldin role, Crabtree will bring the same emotional outbursts that defined their intense approach to the game.
"I really can’t describe it. It’s just a feeling," Crabtree said. "I love to play the game, so as soon as you put the helmet and shoulder pads on, it’s just go-time. You go for what you know — and that’s football. You take it off, and you have a whole other guy."
Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome has mentioned twice this offseason about how he wants to change the faces at wide receiver. But, if everything goes according to plan with Crabtree, there could be a nostalgic look at that position for Baltimore, too.