Harbaugh: Crabtree's quick return 'rare'

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The San Francisco 49ers' offense has taken it to the next level in the six games since star receiver Michael Crabtree has returned from a torn Achilles injury in May.

Before Crabtree's return, the 49ers' offense lacked dimension and spark. Now, it is a varied, dangerous offense. His return is a major reason why the 49ers are preparing to play in the NFC championship at Seattle on Sunday.

Crabtree's coaches are not taking his return for granted. They know how much personal sacrifice Crabtree went through to get back this season. 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh marveled Thursday at what Crabtree accomplished. He called Crabtree's work to return "rare."

"First, on a personal level, that he was able to go through the grueling rehab and having to sit out for healing purposes, and then when he came back, you could just see at every juncture he was hitting right down the middle of the strike zone in terms of his healing," Harbaugh said. "And you just watched the mental toughness, the physical toughness over that six-month period. And then when he got back on the field, then even a, ‘Wow, this is really going to be good for us.' And just thankful to him. Thankful that he went through the grueling rehab … what kind of human being is able to do that. It's so rare. I can't even compare it to anything else that I've ever seen. It's that rare. Very thankful that he's good and did what he did to get back and help his team."

San Francisco offensive coordinator Greg Roman admitted Thursday there were times when he wondered if Crabtree would miss the entire season.

"Oh, no question. I think Mike is one of the tougher guys you'll find at the receiver position and again he doesn't walk around and talk about it, he just does it," Roman said. "The way he approached his rehab was nothing short of exemplary. Yes, we were hoping that he'd be available at the end of this year. But I'll be honest with you, I had my doubts until I saw him pushing a sled about a month and a half ago out here, I realized it was reality."

Did Crabtree share his coaches' concerns that the offseason injury could have shelved him until next season?

"Not at all. Not at all," Crabtree said. "As soon as I got hurt I asked the doctor how long it was going to take. He told me about five months. I didn't want to tell anybody the dates. I just kept working hard, day by day and we are here now."

Here they are. Preparing for an NFC title game the 49ers know they likely wouldn't be in without Crabtree on the field.