The San Francisco 49ers were able to close out the last regular season game at Candlestick Park in grand fashion. Navorro Bowman made what Jim Harbaugh referred to as one of the best things he’s ever seen happen in a football game that he was involved with. Bowman was able to intercept a pass that was broken up by Tremaine Brock. Patrick Willis also contributed a monster performance both against the run and in pass coverage against Tony Gonzalez. The best linebacker duo in the NFL was the X factor from Monday’s win against the Atlanta Falcons.
Willis contributed 18 total tackles including three tackles for a loss. He also had one pass breakup. Willis did a very good job of defending Tony Gonzalez throughout most of the game. Yes, he did have eight receptions for 63 yards and one touchdown, but that touchdown did not come with Willis covering him. One of Willis’ tackles for a loss was on a third and short for the Falcons. He stuffed Steven Jackson in the backfield for a loss of yardage and forced a punt.
Another way that he contributed did not show in the box score. That was by way of his leadership. Willis is the heart of the defense. He calls the plays and makes sure that everyone is lined up. He is the one that speaks to the team when they huddle up before the game. Make no mistake, he is the catalyst for the 49ers suffocating defense.
Bowman on Willis; “Anytime something is going wrong on the field, 52 is always there getting everybody on the same page. He’s a complete linebacker.”
Willis was quick to give credit to his position coach, Jim Leavitt. Granted, Willis was solid prior to Leavitt joining the 49ers after leaving the University of South Florida, but Bowman blossomed under Leavitt.
In 2011, Leavitt led a linebacking corps that featured two, First-Team All-Pro selections, LB Patrick Willis and LB NaVorro Bowman. Bowman, in his first year as a starter, led the team with 173 tackles, while adding two sacks and two fumble recoveries. Willis ranked second on the team with 121 tackles and set career-highs with four forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and 12 passes defensed. The 49ers also ranked first in the NFL in run defense.
Willis spoke about the influence of his coach. “One of the things that we talked about all year was that we would go through some adversity. We believed in ourselves, stayed together and now we have a chance to go make something happen. Coach Levitt is one of the best coaches. He’s great to have on the sideline when things are going crazy. He always finds a way to build us up, keep us on edge. Tells us we have to go out there and lead. We have a chance to win this game and not let them score.”
Things got very sticky for the 49ers as the Falcons drove deep into 49er territory and were in position to tie the game with a field goal at the very least. Matt Ryan tried to fit the ball to Harry Douglas in a tight spot and Brock was able to make an aggressive break on the ball. In doing so, he dislodged the ball from Douglas and it flew into the air. Bowman made an alert play by reading the quarterback and abandoning the blitz. he did so to get into position to make the tackle but was alert enough to hold onto the ball and return it 89 yards for the touchdown. It seemed like a ton of bricks fell on his back when he got to the 30 yard line but Bowman was able to finish off the play.
Bowman described the play after the game; “Means a lot. I was the guy who missed the ball on the onside kick but my coach told me to let it go. Move on to the next play. IT was an all out blitz. I aborted my blitz and read the quarterback. T Brock did a great of breaking on the ball. This was my best play yet.”
The play is another in a long line of impact plays by Bowman. A lot of buzz is being generated about Luke Kuechley, Sean Lee and Lavonte David but Bowman surely deserves to be in the conversation also. In fact, a strong case can be made for Bowman to be the Defensive Player of the Year. He surely has a teammate that would vouch for his performance.
Willis on Bowman; “People talk about other linebackers in this league but what they don’t understand is that everyday I come to work, this guys locker is right next to my locker. He is one of the best linebackers in this league if not the best. Not to discredit myself. I know how hard he works and one of the best things about playing with this guy is he loves to see me do well just as much as I love to see him do well.”
The 49ers are one of the league’s hottest teams. This win over the Falcons was a display of their great linebackers. Patrick Willis and Navorro Bowman both played major roles which caused them to be the X factor in the win over the Falcons.