SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Vernon Davis has stepped it up for the San Francisco 49ers this season in ways that go beyond the star tight end’s typical contributions to the team’s passing game.
The charismatic sixth-year veteran has emerged as one of the 49ers’ more visible leaders and has been outspoken in support of teammates.
He also can be counted on when the team’s inconsistent offense needs him most.
Davis took charge to spark the 49ers’ first touchdown drive late in the third quarter of Monday night’s game against Pittsburgh, setting up his own 1-yard scoring reception with two big plays that got San Francisco rolling toward a 20-3 victory.
Davis’ six receptions for 72 yards against the Steelers were his second-best totals in each category this season, underscoring how Davis has been used this year within the framework of San Francisco’s offense.
With two games remaining, Davis is well off the receiving totals that made him the NFC’s starting tight end in the Pro Bowl two seasons ago.
But Davis’ contributions to San Francisco’s first NFC West championship and playoff berth in nine years go well beyond numbers.
“Vernon is a leader on this team,” coach Jim Harbaugh said Thursday. “He’s done everything that the team has asked him to do and done it very well, done it at a very high level.
“I think he’s having an outstanding season. (He is) one of the top tight ends in the game of football, and I think he’s having that kind of year.”
After becoming the first tight end in franchise history to lead the 49ers in receptions, receiving yards and touchdown catches in consecutive seasons the past two years, Davis has 55 receptions for 620 yards this season to rank second on the team to wide receiver Michael Crabtree.
Davis said he’s enjoying every minute of it. Like a lot of players on the San Francisco roster, this is his first winning season.
“We’re winning, and I’m excited about it as anybody,” Davis said. “I’ll always do whatever I can to dominate my opponent, but that’s just who I am. That’s just my nature to do that.
“But yeah, I was very excited that I was able to be involved in the passing game (Monday) and help my team win.”
With the 49ers clinging to a three-point lead late in the third quarter, Davis got behind the Steelers defense for a 31-yard reception that pushed San Francisco into Pittsburgh territory.
He finished the drive with a 21-yard reception followed by his 1-yard scoring catch — Davis’ team-leading sixth touchdown reception this season.
But Davis, known for his confidence and boasting earlier in his career, has remained humble throughout the 49ers’ turnaround season.
Instead of reveling in one of his best games of the season, Davis went to Twitter early Tuesday to support a struggling teammate, calling veteran wide receiver Braylon Edwards “a true professional. Very thankful to have him on my team.”
Edwards, expected to be San Francisco’s No. 1 receiver entering the season, is having a frustrating first year with the 49ers.
Edwards has battled knee and shoulder injuries this season and has been inactive for two of San Francisco’s past three games. He has one reception for 5 yards in the past five games.
Davis also has remained consistent in his support of quarterback Alex Smith this season when others have wavered.
Davis, who leads all NFL tight ends with 26 touchdown receptions since 2009, has been Smith’s top target since Smith entered the NFL as the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2005.
Davis followed Harbaugh’s lead this week in asserting that Smith is the team’s long-term answer at quarterback.
“I firmly believe that Alex Smith can do nothing but just keep getting better,” Davis said.
“He wants to be successful and try to find ways to help this team get better down the road. I’m all for it. I’m a big supporter.”