Published October 17, 2013
SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Vernon Davis joked about burning by the Honey Badger, Arizona safety Tyrann Mathieu.
"Ran past the Honey Badger," Davis said with a grin. "The Honey Badger didn't see me."
He razzed Cardinals wide receiver and pal Larry Fitzgerald for having more body fat than the San Francisco tight end who is as fit and fast as ever a few months shy of 30.
The sensational day Davis put together last weekend allowed him a little bit of leeway: He caught touchdown passes of 61 and 35 yards and finished with a career-best 180 yards receiving in the 49ers' 32-20 victory against Arizona.
After all that, he turned down a game ball from coach Jim Harbaugh given each week to a standout player on offense, defense and special teams. Davis insisted quarterback Colin Kaepernick deserved it more.
With six touchdowns through the first six games for San Francisco (4-2), Davis has already topped his TD total of five from last season. His 22 receptions are well on the way to surpassing his 41 in 2012.
And Davis didn't even play one of those games, sitting out a 27-7 loss to Indianapolis with a hamstring injury to have his streak of 98 straight games played snapped.
Not that Davis is necessarily counting his numbers at this stage. He does know that he and Kaepernick have found a nice groove together at last. Davis said he struggled to click initially with Kaepernick in 2012 when the quarterback took over the starting job from Alex Smith in November.
Davis caught touchdown passes of 61 and 35 yards against the Cardinals, his second TD catch of at least 60 yards in as many games after he had a 64-yarder in a 34-3 rout of Houston a week earlier.
"I just run, man. I feel like I've gotten faster," Davis said, chuckling in near disbelief. "I feel like it, but there's no telling. I'm just out there running because that's my biggest asset, my speed. I use it the best way I can and I continue to get open and help this team win."
He showed off his speed and more on one spectacular leaping, over-the-shoulder catch along the sideline that even had Harbaugh shaking his head, stunned. Davis has practiced that very catch daily for five years with assistant athletic trainer Nate Breske — and Davis gave Breske a shoutout after Sunday's game.
"It's pretty cool," Breske said. "Any chance he gets when there's a break in practice, he's working on that catch or any other catch, and he's ready for me to throw him the ball. He's relentless."
In his eighth season, Davis said he learned after a few years in the league how to better take care of himself, and those little things are paying off now.
He turned more attention to his diet. He is playing at 245 pounds, five pounds lighter than his playing weight early in his career.
"I wasn't fat, a little bit," he said, grinning. "I changed my diet. No fast food, stayed away from steak. I don't eat too much red meat. Chicken, fish, greens. I just feel loose and lean."
And, of standing next to star Cardinals wideout Fitzgerald before the game, Davis offered this: "He's pretty big. Except for he probably has more fat than me. That's my guy, I love him."
Davis' contributions are all the more important with top 2012 wideout Michael Crabtree recovering from a torn right Achilles' tendon that required surgery. He is expected back sometime next month. In the meantime, the 6-foot-3 Davis has been lining up as both a tight end and receiver, depending on the play.
"We knew he'd be a mismatch, he always is," Kaepernick said. "Vernon is someone who has all those tools. So, every route it is going to vary for him, but he uses those tools to his advantage."
Come February, after what he hopes is a return trip to the Super Bowl and a championship this time, Davis will share his expertise in another forum. For the second time, he will serve as honorary captain to the U.S. men's curling team for the Sochi Olympics. He attended matches at the 2010 Vancouver Games after trying out the sport in San Jose and becoming interested. He has done public service announcements and is taping something for USA Curling's January event in Las Vegas.
For now, Davis is focused on keeping San Francisco on a nice roll. The 49ers have won three straight games heading into a difficult stretch with Sunday's game at Tennessee, then a flight straight to London to play Jacksonville the following week.
He does a lot to help prepare the Niners' defense each week.
"He can do whatever he wants, whenever he wants," running back Frank Gore said. "You can't put a safety on him, you can't even really put corners on him. That's a 250-pound guy running a 4.3 (40-yard dash). He's probably one of the fastest guys on the team. I'm happy we've got him as a look that can go deep."
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