ATLANTA at SAN FRANCISCO
4:05 p.m., FOX
Records: Falcons (2-1); San Francisco (3-1)
Series record: 49ers lead 44-28-1
Last meeting: Falcons beat 49ers 20-16, Nov. 4, 2007
Last week: Falcons bye, lost to Patriots 26-10 in Week 3; 49ers beat Rams 35-0
Falcons offense: Overall (23), Rush (25), Pass (20)
Falcons defense: Overall (30), Rush (25), Pass (27)
49ers offense: Overall (28), Rush (15), Pass (28)
49ers defense: Overall (6), Rush (4), Pass (10)
Streaks, stats and notes: Falcons travel to San Francisco for first time since 2004, when they won 21-19 in season opener. ... Atlanta has won last two meetings, including following its bye week in 2007. Falcons held Niners to 265 total yards and nine second-half points. Atlanta again is coming off bye week to play San Francisco. ... These teams met in 1998 playoffs, a win by Atlanta. ... Falcons are looking for first road win of 2009. ... Falcons TE Tony Gonzalez has caught at least one pass in 134 straight games. ... 49ers recorded first shutout in 119 games with rout of St. Louis. ... In his only meeting vs. Falcons, 49ers TE Vernon Davis had career-high seven catches for 77 yards as second-year pro in 2007. ... 49ers offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye coached Gonzalez in Kansas City and also served two stints as Falcons wide receivers coach. ... San Francisco looks to extend five-game winning streak at Candlestick Park dating to last season. ... 49ers will be without star RB Frank Gore for second straight game.
SAN FRANCISCO — Vernon Davis credits Tony Gonzalez for offering some tips over the years.
They both can credit Jimmy Raye for giving them plenty of chances along the way.
Davis is taking on a bigger role for the San Francisco 49ers each week under Raye’s direction as the team’s seventh offensive coordinator in as many years. Gonzalez is the rock of stability in the Atlanta passing game.
These two could be central figures come today when their teams face off at Candlestick Park.
The 49ers (3-1) are on a roll and sitting atop the NFC West standings, the Falcons (2-1) are looking to bounce back from a 26-10 loss at New England before their bye week.
"See who outperforms who," Davis said with a grin. "Of course I’m going to step my game up."
Davis is tied for ninth among NFL tight ends with 17 receptions to go with three touchdowns, all in the past two games, and Gonzalez is one of three ranked 13th with 13 catches. He has two TDs and leads Atlanta with 160 yards receiving. Gonzalez also has gone 134 consecutive games with at least one catch.
Davis had a career-high seven receptions for 77 yards in his only game against the Falcons, a 20-16 Atlanta win in the teams’ last meeting on Nov. 4, 2007.
Raye coached Gonzalez from 1998-2000 in Kansas City. Raye has ties to the Falcons, too, having served as wide receivers coach from 1980-82 and again from 1987-89.
He believes Davis could one day be considered among the top tight ends, right up there with Gonzalez.
"There are some similarities," Raye said. "Vernon, if he continues to progress and play the way he has played, I think he can develop into an upper-echelon player at that position. He has one of the great prerequisites to playing the position: He has wide receiver speed for his size. He’s an excellent blocker. He’s a problem for the defense in the middle of the secondary."
Gonzalez was a star college player at California in Berkeley and grew up watching and admiring the 49ers during their best years: Jerry Rice, Joe Montana, Roger Craig.
Former 49ers coach Steve Mariucci was at Cal for a short time with Gonzalez before leaving for the NFL.
"That was one of the teams I wanted to play for," Gonzalez recalled. "I remember thinking ‘Man, I’d love to go there.’ Jerry Rice was still there, Steve Young was still there. It was a pretty good football team. But, you know, times have changed."
Perhaps they have, but the 49ers are off to their best start since 2002 — their last winning season — and already consider themselves a playoff contender in coach Mike Singletary’s first full season in charge.
There’s a new mentality around this franchise, a winning mode based on Singletary’s team-first philosophy.
His players bought in from the start.
Even Davis has come around, maturing enough for Singletary to make him a captain.
That after the fiery tight end was sent to the showers in the fourth quarter of Singletary’s debut last October for his behavior following a personal foul penalty against Seattle.
While Singletary provides Davis’ biggest influence these days, he still appreciates Gonzalez’s helpful words over the years.
"He’d always give me pointers on the game. I remember we’d always talk football," Davis said. "I know Gonzalez really well. We’ve met at a lot of places, charity events, things like that."
Both offenses could use big production from their tight ends this week. The 49ers, who will be missing star running back Frank Gore for the second straight game because of an ankle injury, are looking to become more balanced.
The Falcons’ running game has struggled and could be up for another tough day against a relentless San Francisco defense that has made its share of game-changing plays in recent weeks. Led by star linebacker Patrick Willis, the 49ers have risen to a No. 6 ranking among NFL defenses.
Atlanta is 25th in rushing and leading runner Michael Turner has just 226 yards on 65 carries with two touchdowns through three games.
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is always looking to Gonzalez as a target, especially with a lackluster ground attack.
"He’s such a talented guy, you have to do things differently to take advantage of his talent," Ryan said. "I expected him to be great but I hadn’t grown up watching the Chiefs. I hadn’t seen a lot of tape on the Chiefs. You get out on the practice field and he’s even better than he looked on tape."
In three games, Ryan has completed 60 of 91 passes for 648 yards and five touchdowns.
Gonzalez is confident the Falcons’ offense will get going soon in all phases.