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A year after 'The Grab,' Davis trying to catch on

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A year after 'The Grab,' Davis trying to catch on

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) From the way Vernon Davis struts and smiles around the San Francisco 49ers' locker room, it might be hard to tell the tight end has endured a ``stressful season.''

Not once has he complained or pouted about his limited touches. Davis even laughs about how he might have reacted in his younger days if the ball so rarely came his way.

``Coaches wouldn't like me,'' he said, chuckling.

A year ago this week, Davis had the defining moment of his career in a thrilling 36-32 playoff win over New Orleans. He made a leaping 14-yard touchdown catch while getting smashed by safety Roman Harper, a play Davis dubbed ``The Grab,'' which sent the tight end running to the sideline in tears and the 49ers to the NFC championship game.

A year later, Davis enters San Francisco's NFC divisional playoff against the Green Bay Packers on Saturday night as somewhat of a mystery. He's perhaps the most proven and prolific threat for the 49ers, as he showed in both games last January, though his role has diminished in the last six weeks.

Davis finished with 41 receptions for 548 yards and five touchdowns this season. All three are his lowest since he caught 31 passes for 358 yards and two TDs in 2008.

``It is a different feeling for me because it's been a tough season as far as just the feeling of being involved,'' said Davis, now 28 years old. ``To me, it's not a bad thing, because it's something I had to get used to this year. Each and every season in the past, I'm used to helping the team in ways where I'm just catching balls and things like that. This year's been a little bit different. It just feels different going into these playoffs, as far as my role and things like that. It's not a bad thing, I'm not mad at it. That's just how it is sometimes. It takes a little getting used to.''

Davis has tried to stay focused, not frustrated, and he's happy so long as San Francisco (11-4-1) keeps on winning. Anytime he begins to think otherwise, Davis said, he thinks back to that final catch against the Saints as the shining example of how he might be called upon at any moment.

Hard to believe considering how his season started out, catching four touchdown passes from Alex Smith in the first three games. He didn't score again until Colin Kaepernick's first start in Week 11, when he hauled in six receptions for 83 yards and a TD in a Monday night victory over the Chicago Bears that had Davis so giddy he said it felt like ``someone took the handcuffs off me.''

In the six games since, the chemistry between Kaepernick and Davis has evaporated.

Davis has six catches and no touchdowns during the span and he left early in a Week 16 loss against Seattle because of a concussion that also limited him in the regular-season finale against Arizona. Even some of the most faithful and famous 49ers have questioned why coach Jim Harbaugh and Kaepernick can't get Davis the ball more.

``He's just not human on the football field and I don't understand why he's not being more involved,'' Hall of Fame wide receiver Jerry Rice said on KGMZ-FM radio in the Bay Area last Friday. ``You would think they would design more plays for Vernon Davis. But I think they've got to get him more involved if they want to get to the Super Bowl in New Orleans.''

Harbaugh has repeatedly said Davis remains an integral part of the game plan each week, touting the tight end's pass protection and blocking downfield. He insists Davis draws double coverages on almost every play, freeing up others to make plays.

``They're wary of getting beat by Vernon Davis,'' Harbaugh said. ``I think that's the biggest, greatest share.''

Davis' teammates have been the biggest beneficiaries.

Michael Crabtree had a career-best 1,105 yards receiving, including a single-game high 172 yards on eight receptions in the win over Arizona. Crabtree is San Francisco's first wide receiver to eclipse 1,000 yards in a season since Terrell Owens in 2003.

Tight end Delanie Walker also had a career-high 344 yards receiving to go with three touchdowns on 21 catches. He is quick to heap praise on what Davis does each game, no matter how many passes his teammate catches.

After breaking his jaw in two places at Seattle on Dec. 24, 2011, Walker remembers watching from the sideline as Davis caught seven passes for 180 yards and two touchdowns in the win over the Saints last January, including the final one on a play called ``Vernon Post'' that allowed a recovered Walker to return for the NFC title game.

``Vernon makes crucial-moment catches like that,'' Walker said. ``When I saw that catch, I was down there on the field running on the field and yelling. I was probably more excited than he was, because now I had a chance to play in the playoffs. I looked at it and I thanked him, `Thank you, bro. Now I can come back.'''

Davis added 112 yards receiving and two TDs in San Francisco's 20-17 overtime loss to the Giants a week later, when Crabtree's one catch for 3 yards accounted for all of the production from 49ers wide receivers. But Davis also had a pair of 15-yard personal foul penalties in the game, one for jumping up onto a podium during a TD celebration and another for pushing New York players in a post-play scrum.

That's still far from the volatile manner Davis displayed so often in his first few years after the 49ers drafted him sixth overall out of Maryland in 2006.

Davis learned from his biggest blunder back in 2008, when former coach Mike Singletary sent the young, emotional tight end to the locker room early during a game against Seattle. Davis then became the focus of Singletary's infamous ``I want winners!'' rant following the 34-13 home loss.

Davis admits he ``didn't know how to handle things'' those days. He said he was trying to mimic players such as Owens, a comparable talent in athleticism at their respective positions, instead of creating his own path to 49ers stardom.

About the only selfish hiccup Davis has had this season was of a playful nature. In San Francisco's 30-22 win at Green Bay in Week 1, he failed in trying to dunk over the crossbar after a touchdown. Teammates teased him afterward - so he shot the ball over the crossbar the next week against Detroit.

Now Davis only hopes for another chance to celebrate in the end zone in these playoffs.

``I'll just wait for my opportunities. I'm sure they will come,'' he said. ``I said the same thing last year, even though I didn't get the ball as much as I wanted last year, I said my opportunities will come. And maybe I'll get them this week. But you never know. If we can continue to get Crabtree involved and he can help us the way he did last week, then I'm all for it.''

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AP Sports Writer Janie McCauley contributed.

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Wolfpack overcomes 10-minute scoring drought to top Virginia

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Wolfpack overcomes 10-minute scoring drought to top Virginia

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- D.J. Funderburk scored 14 points before fouling out and North Carolina State overcame a second-half scoring drought of more than 10 minutes in a 53-51 victory against Virginia on Monday night.

C.J. Bryce added 13 points for the Wolfpack (14-5, 5-3 Atlantic Coast Conference), including a jumper with 27 seconds left after allowing the shot clock to race to near 0:00. The victory ended an eight-game losing streak against the Cavaliers.

Viginia (12-6, 4-4) used a 15-0 run during the N.C. State scoring drought that lasted 10:13 to take a 46-42 lead, bringing the crowd at John Paul Jones Arena back into the game. But Jericole Hellems hit a 3-pointer for N.C. State with 3:38 left and, after a free throw by Mamadi Diakite for Virginia, Markell Johnson hit a 3-pointer and then Hellems' putback gave the Wolfpack a 50-47 lead.

Johnson and Bryce both missed the front end of one-and-one free throw opportunities, and Kihei Clark hit a pair for Virginia. Braxton Beverly made the first and missed the second for the Wolfpack with 7.2 seconds left, and the Cavaliers Casey Morsell was short on a contested 3 at the buzzer.

Clark led Virginia with 10 points, seven rebounds and five assists.

The Wolfpack had used an 8-0 run to go ahead 42-31. Virginia helped out by going scoreless for more than 6 1/2 minutes. Francisco Caffaro, who had just been inserted into the game, ended the drought with 11:13 left.

BIG PICTURE

N.C. State: The Wolfpack seemed on their way to a solid victory until the drought, during which they were 1 for 8 from the field with five turnovers and repeatedly let the shot clock run down into single digits, forcing bad shots.

Virginia: In the Cavaliers' continuing search for scoring help, freshman Casey Morsell had as many as three field goals for the first time since a 65-56 victory against Navy on Dec. 29. He was 4 for 20 from the field in his last five games. He finished the night 4 for 9 and his buzzer-beater attempt was closely guarded.

UP NEXT

The Wolfpack remains on the road and plays at Georgia Tech on Saturday.

The Cavaliers go on the road and play at Wake Forest on Sunday.

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Despite place in standings, Wizards believe playoffs aren't a pipe dream

Despite place in standings, Wizards believe playoffs aren't a pipe dream

WASHINGTON -- This may be the most realistic and self-aware Wizards team we have seen in a while. It wasn't long ago they had a penchant for talking big about what they believed they could accomplish. Nowadays, knowing where they are in the standings, their expectations are much more measured.

They know they are 12th in the Eastern Conference, even after beating the Pistons on Monday. They know their 14-28 record, which is 14 games under .500 and has them on pace to win 27 total games, isn't good.

But the Wizards are allowed to dream and they say making the playoffs is still something they would like to do.

"That's the goal, that's every day for us. [It's] in the back of my mind," shooting guard Bradley Beal said.

"I watch the games, I watch the standings and everything. We're not talking about it," head coach Scott Brooks said. "If that comes into play [we'll see]. The seventh and eighth seeds, the records aren't great."

There is certainly a case for that. The two teams currently occupying the bottom two playoff spots in the East have sub-.500 records. The seventh-ranked Magic are 20-23 and the Brooklyn Nets are in eighth with an 18-24 mark.

Last season, the Charlotte Hornets held up the Eastern Conference playoff bracket with a losing record as the eighth seed. They went 39-43, not good but still a much better pace than the Wizards are currently on. To win 39 games, they would have to go 25-16 the rest of the way.

Though they have shown some positive signs, going 4-4 in their last eight games, that would require going to a completely different level in the second half of the season. Still, there is no harm in maintaining their goals.

Beal, for one, has envisioned a way it can happen.

"Especially once All-Star hits, that second half is just flying. We have to tighten up and try to get some wins here before the break because that's usually the time when teams like to ease off the pedal a little bit. We have to take advantage of [that], that advantage of our schedule, take care of our bodies, and rally together," he said.

If the Wizards really, really wanted to go for the playoffs, they could try to add some pieces before the Feb. 6 trade deadline. But that should not be expected. In fact, this year's deadline for the Wizards likely won't be affected much at all by the playoff picture.

It's hard to envision them being buyers and they may not be able to be true sellers, either, due to injuries and other factors. Also, there is a belief in the front office that keeping a close distance in the playoff race could be a nice incentive for their young players, that having something to work for later in the season could help their development.

If the Wizards did somehow make the playoffs or even get close, that would be quite the surprise and it would say a lot about the direction of the organization. But in the long-term, it would seem to be more beneficial if they continue on their current course and end up with a top draft pick.

The Wizards right now have the fifth-worst record in the league. That would net them a lot of ping-pong balls for the draft lottery.

It seems likely that's where this season will end. But it doesn't hurt to try.

"We just want to play. We just want to finish the second half of the season playing better," Brooks said.

The Wizards are only 4 1/2 games back in the playoff race. Stranger things have happened.

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