NaVarro Bowman’s presence on the football field last night gave fans of the San Francisco 49ers something they haven’t had in a long time-optimism.
Immediately after assuming his starter’s role for the first time in over a year, Bowman made his presence on the field known by stuffing Dallas RB Darren McFadden near the line of scrimmage on the game’s opening snap.
McFadden would test Bowman again on the following play, this time to even worse results, as the running back couldn’t split far enough right before the linebacker, accompanied by OLB Aaron Lynch, stopped him for a one-yard loss.
On his third, and final play of the game, Dallas’ efforts would again be thwarted by Bowman, as he picked up Tony Romo‘s pass wide left to RB Lance Dunbar in the flat, and immediately closed the gap between his opponent before taking him down behind the line of scrimmage for yet another loss.
Bowman’s final line: three tackles on three snaps, two for losses, with a +1.5 grade according to ProFootballFocus.
Bowman’s play Sunday was important in more ways than one. His ability to stop his opponents with ease showed strength not only in his surgically repaired knee, but in his mindset. Bowman had often mentioned that making that first hit would be a significant mental hurdle, and on Sunday, he cleared that obstacle with power.
But football isn’t all physicality, and perhaps the most impressive part of Bowman’s play on Sunday was his ability to make reads on the offense, juke Romo with a faux-blitz, and position himself exactly where he needed to be to make his stops.
After a full season on the sidelines, it looks like he never left the field at all. This is because Bowman kept himself prepared for the day he would return to the 49ers defense. Not by rehabbing, but by studying.
“Last year I had a whole year to just sit back and see it from a coach’s view, and you just want to stay in it. You don’t want to seem like you’ve got it all or you know it all.”
At just 27-years old, the three-time All-Pro has plenty of accolades to hang his hat on. During his six-years in the league, Bowman has established himself as an elite inside linebacker.
But this didn’t stop Bowman’s savant nature from making sure he came back stronger from his injury both in mind and body.
“You always want to try to better yourself. I think that’s what the greats do, they find ways to learn in different ways, not just as a player. That’s what the year off gave me and I just wanted to show that I’m a student of the game, not just a player.”
It was a small sample size, too small for Bowman’s liking, but the results are clear. NaVorro Bowman is back for the 49ers. And for everyone except San Francisco’s opponents, this is great news.
And there in lies perhaps the first real piece of optimism that the 49ers faithful can hang their head on.
Amidst the retirements, the contract termination and turmoil of the nightmarish offseason, the 49ers retained perhaps the most important piece of their puzzle moving forwards.
NaVorro Bowman is, and will be, a playmaker for the 49ers. We saw this last night, and as he continues to fight for more playing time, you’ll see it in the future.
And although one man out of ten does not create a Super Bowl berth, 49er fans can exhale a sigh of relief that No. 53 is patrolling the middle of the field.