SANTA CLARA -- The 49ers might win Sunday in Seattle without Anquan Boldin catching a touchdown pass.
But the 49ers will not win Sunday in Seattle without Boldin catching many passes.
How many? For the heck of it, let's set the over-under at six. More than that, the 49ers win. Less, no chance.
I say this because I have two eyes and I have two ears.
Last season, the 49ers wide receivers were manhandled by Seattle's defensive backs, particularly in a 42-13 loss to the Seahawks in December. That night, the 49ers' leading pass catcher was Michael Crabtree with just four catches for 65 yards. No other 49ers wide receiver did any better -- or scored any points -- in either 2012 game against the Seahawks.
That is what my eyes saw. And now, this is what my ears hear: Those same Seattle defensive backs -- particularly chatmaster Richard Sherman, president of the Seahawks' debate club -- are pledging to do another shutdown number on the 49ers on Sunday night.
Boldin, traded here in the offseason from Baltimore, has watched those on video. He's taken mental notes on the Seattle cornerbacks and safeties.
"They're very athletic guys, with good size," Boldin said Wednesday. "If you watch films, they're a lot more physical than normal defensive backs."
So what's the secret to dealing with manhandlers in the secondary?
"Just coming at them, matching their intensity, being physical yourself," Boldin said. "But I think you have to do what you do best. Some guys are smaller guys, so use your quickness. If you're a bigger guy, use your physicality."
Boldin is not the biggest guy. He is listed at 6-foot-1 and 220 pounds. But he is the most physical wide receiver to wear a 49ers uniform since Terrell Owens. Crabtree, who is out of action indefinitely after Achilles repair, is about the same size as Boldin. However, Crabtree makes his bones with clever quickness and flypaper hands. Boldin is less about speed, more about detailed patterns and aggressive grabbing.
Mostly, Boldin seems to relish any one-on-one (or one-on-three) fight for the ball. Boldin's best work was on full display last Sunday in his 13-catch, 208-yard game against Green Bay.
"He's always been a big-play guy," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said Wednesday, "and a guy who can catch it with guys draped all over him."
Boldin will not have another 200-yard game Sunday. The Seahawks won't allow that. But if he is just effective enough, with seven or eight timely big plays, it could make all the difference in opening up the offense for other attack points.
The 32-year-old Boldin has good history against the Seahawks. Before his Baltimore years, he spent seven seasons with Arizona, another NFC West team that met Seattle twice a season. In a 2008 game at noisy CenturyLink Field, he had 13 receptions for 186 yards.
On the downside, Boldin's most recent visit to Seattle was in 2011, the first season for the Seahawks' big-man cornerback combination of Sherman and Brandon Browner. That day, Boldin was held to just two catches and 22 yards.
Boldin's quarterback in Arizona was Kurt Warner, now retired and an NFL Network pundit. This week, Warner said that Boldin's competitiveness was "unlike anybody's that I've ever played with" and that he can often intimidate defensive backs, rather than vice versa.
"Anquan tries to do that every time out, whether the ball is in his hands, whether he's blocking on a run play," Warner said. "He physically tries to let the people on the other side know they're in for a long day. He does a great job of finding ways to get open. That is what's going to mean more than anything to this 49ers team. You have a quarterback in Colin Kaepernick that can extend plays, can buy time and Anquan is so good at understanding what defenses are doing and finding those holes, those soft spots."
Boldin credits that ability to his years as a Florida high school quarterback, before he was switched to receiver at Florida State. His coach at Pahokee High, Joe Marx, was a stickler for details and made certain Boldin understood overall offensive concepts rather than just one position.
In his brief time as a 49er, Boldin has lived up to his reputation as an all-business, no-bull employee. He left Sunday's game wearing bluejeans and a T-shirt. He is the opposite of flashy. If the Seahawks' Sherman starts yapping at him Sunday during the game, he will not yap back.
"There's no need to," Boldin said. "I mean, that doesn't help me do my job."
Pay attention to Boldin's hands Sunday. If they are busy, his team is in business. And if those hands grasp leather seven or more times, I like the 49ers' chances to do excellent business.