Old man river just keeps rolling along.
Ten years ago, San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Anquan Boldin began his career with the Arizona Cardinals with a 10-reception game, amassing 217 yards and two touchdowns against the Detroit Lions. In Week 1 of 2013, Boldin was able to manage 13 receptions, 208 yards and one touchdown. He also led the 49ers with 17 targets.
For a man who is about to turn 33 in just under a month, that effort is not only exceptional—it is extraordinary. Remember, too, that the San Francisco 49ers didn't exactly luck into acquiring Boldin; they received him in a trade with the Baltimore Ravens for a sixth-round pick.
Let me say that one more time: The Baltimore Ravens jettisoned Boldin for little more than the football equivalent of pocket change.
Rewind back to the NFL's season opener on Thursday night and take a trip down Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco's personal memory lane of horrors...his receivers couldn't catch a cold. Torrey Smith hauled in four catches on eight targets, and tight end Dallas Clark lumbered to seven receptions on 12 targets.
Worse yet, Boldin's "replacement"—at least, in terms of targets, if not specific role—Brandon Stokley hauled in only four catches on 10 targets for 34 yards. The 37-year-old Stokley could barely find his way up the field on most of his receptions. He left plenty of yards on the field. He's clearly aged past his effective prime.
The Ravens got rid of Boldin for that exact reason—they moved on to pursue youth. But today, is there anything Flacco wouldn't give to have an "old guy" like Boldin instead of an old guy like Stokley?
To be fair, the Ravens couldn't have foreseen the wideout's Week 1 offensive explosion with all the tea leaves in the world. Boldin, for the most part, wasn't a great player throughout the 2012 regular season. His fantastic playoff contributions were notable, but many outside the organization saw them as convenient anomalies as well.
At the very least, one can admit that 33-year-old receivers who were never that fast to begin with aren't exactly prototypical building blocks.
Advantage, San Francisco.
With receiver Michael Crabtree out for most, if not all, of the season following an Achilles tear, Boldin has officially settled in as quarterback Colin Kaepernick's top target. Together with an expanded role for tight end Vernon Davis and a pu pu platter of other prospects, Kaepernick looked just fine against a Packers defense that looked just as befuddled against his arm this year as it did against his legs in last year's playoff matchup.
The 49ers don't need Anquan Boldin to be the second coming of Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson. They don't need him to amass 200 yards every single game. Heck, they don't even need half of that from him. They need him to do what he's always done—be a dependable receiver and a willing blocker who moves the chains.
With that limited role in place, anything else Boldin brings to the table is icing on the cake.
The cake, of course, is in celebration of the 49ers being the class of the NFC. No one is deeper on defense. No offense can beat opponents in so many different ways. No team is as well-coached or has so readily adopted its coach's message as its collective credo.
The 49ers aren't perfect—no team is in today's parity-driven NFL. But if Boldin can keep this kind of production up in any way, shape or form, it makes the 49ers as close as anyone. Heck, who could have guessed that the biggest question mark after Week 1 would be running back Frank Gore and the power running game?
Gore finished with 44 yards and 21 carries, and a lot of that came late in the game. Yet this is the same team that can seemingly flip a switch between spread passing attack, option running or power running almost any time it wants, depending on the matchup.
Next week, the 49ers have the Seahawks, and it's almost certain that the SF game plan will look entirely different. That's the benefit of having so many talented players, a fantastic offensive line and a quarterback who can do it all.
Without Boldin and the pressure he'll put on defenses to continue to scout the 49ers' passing attack, defenses could key in more on Kaepernick as a runner and the power running game. Now, the 49ers are that much harder to game-plan for.
Will Boldin put up 200 yards in every game this season? No, he will not. Will he do it in a second game this season? Probably not.
Yet, as the season rolls on and Kaepernick gains even more confidence in his veteran receiver, only more good can come of it.
Without Boldin, the 49ers were a flawed Super Bowl contender. With Boldin's apparently ageless contributions, they're ready for another run at the Lombardi Trophy.
Michael Schottey is the NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff at The Go Route. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained by the author.
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