With Patrick Willis and Aldon Smith out and the 49ers’ defense seemingly defenseless in two consecutive losses, linebacker NaVorro Bowman decided it was time to make a statement.
So, in Thursday night’s nationally televised NFC West matchup against the Rams, Bowman put on a show, fired up his teammates and delivered the message that San Francisco can again be a dominating defense.
Bowman had six tackles (including three for loss), a tipped pass that produced an interception and two sacks, including one that forced a fumble from Rams quarterback Sam Bradford and led to a 49ers touchdown.
“If a link gets taken out of a chain, someone has to step up,” Bowman told reporters after Thursday night’s victory, which evens the team’s record at 2-2. “Being a veteran guy, you have to think like that if you want to be the best. I was just playing my game.”
Before the 49ers even took the field Thursday, Bowman – one of the NFL’s best inside linebackers – was determined to make a difference.
In losing two straight, the 49ers didn’t look like the same team they were in 2012 and 2011. They couldn’t stop the run and couldn’t get to the quarterback, and were being beaten at their own physical game.
Hours before Thursday’s game, Bowman told 49ers GM Trent Baalke he was going to do something about it.
“When I woke up this morning, I told my GM, ‘I’m going to get this win for you,’ ” Bowman told a TV interviewer after the 49ers’ 35-11 victory at St. Louis. Bowman said he knew he had to be the leader of the defense, especially with Willis and Smith out of the game.
“Not wanting to lose three games (in a row), facing a division opponent, remembering the game here last year (an overtime loss), playing for Aldon, playing for Pat,” Bowman told Andrew Pentis of 49ers.com.
Wrote Bill Williamson of ESPN.com of Bowman’s play against the Rams: “He was all over the field.”
Bowman also credited the rest of the defense for stepping up, too, on a night when defensive coordinator Vic Fangio shook things up a bit with some extra blitzing. Inside linebacker Michael Wilhoite (five tackles) played well replacing Willis, and rookie Corey Lemonier (three tackles) and veteran Dan Skuta filled Smith’s shoes. Nose tackle Glenn Dorsey was a force, getting great push, logging four tackles and getting a sack.
San Francisco, gashed by Seattle and Indianapolis on the ground, gave up just 18 yards rushing to the Rams and only 188 total yards.
“This was satisfying,” Bowman told reporters.