Deebo Samuel’s been mesmerizing, George Kittle’s become a touchdown machine, Brandon Aiyuk’s broken out of the doghouse, and the 49ers’ rushing prowess has complemented Jimmy Garoppolo’s surge of efficiency.
Hey, the 49ers’ recent turnaround couldn’t have happened without someone else.
Things could be much worse, week in and week out, if not for Nick Bosa’s comeback.
“Bosa is a special player,” coach Kyle Shanahan said Monday on a conference call with reporters. “He’s just as valuable this year as he was his (2019) rookie year. We missed him greatly last year. You can see why this year.
“He’s getting better each week and is playing his best ball of the year right now.”
The 49ers allowed only 10 points in each of their past two wins, and, along the way, Bosa has climbed the charts among the NFL’s top defenders. It’s been an ideal return a year after reconstructive surgery on his left knee’s anterior cruciate ligament.
“I’m starting to get the hang of just how to really get sacks, get numbers,” Bosa said after Sunday’s 30-10 win at Jacksonville.
His effort and numbers are impressive each game, and they go beyond already setting a career-high with 10 sacks and leading the league with 15 tackles for loss. He ranks top five in sacks (10; tie-fifth), sack yards (73; second), and quarterback hits (22; tie-third).
Here is how Bosa ranks in defensive categories:
1. Myles Garrett (Browns), 13
2. T.J. Watt (Steelers), 12 ½
T3. Haason Reddick (Panthers), 10 ½
T3. Matthew Judon (Patriots), 10 ½
T5. Bosa, 10
T5. Harold Landry (Titans), 10
T5. Markus Golden (Cardinals), 10
T5. Robert Quinn (Bears), 10
1. Garrett, 74
2. Bosa, 73
T3. Reddick, 71
T3. Micah Parsons (Cowboys) 71
T5. Chandler Jones (Cardinals) 68
T5. Judon (Patriots) 68
1. Garrett (Browns), 26
2. Maxx Crosby (Raiders), 23
T3. Bosa, 22
T3. Judon (Patriots), 22
5. Jonathan Allen (Wash.), 21
TACKLES FOR LOSS
1. Bosa, 15
2. Garrett, 14
T3. Parsons, 13
T3. Watt, 13
T5. Landry, 12
T5. Reddick, 12
Bosa’s two sacks Sunday came in a three-play span in the fourth quarter, on his final series. Two years ago, he had nine sacks en route to NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year honors and a Super Bowl berth.
Not only is he back to that form, Bosa thinks he’s improved all around, despite exiting last season with his knee injury in the opening quarter of a Week 2 win at the New York Jets.
“My rookie year I was just out there rushing, trying to win every time, and it worked well,” Bosa said. “But now I’m really getting the hang of how the sack leaders in the league do it.
“They go out there with a plan, and know when their opportunities are going to come, and they’re ready for it.”
Um, Nick, “they” certainly include you, with growing confidence in a rebuilt left knee that only recently shed a support sleeve.
There’s only one NFL player this season with 10 Sacks and 15 Tackles for Loss…
and it’s his first year back after tearing his ACL.
— NFL on CBS (@NFLonCBS) November 22, 2021
Bosa should be a contender for NFL Defensive Player of the Year, but he’ll have to make up ground on the Browns’ Myles Garrett and the Cowboys’ Trevon Diggs. Dak Prescott (Dallas Cowboys) is the favorite for Comeback Player of the Year, and the only others listed ahead of Bosa in DraftKings’ sportsbook are Joe Burrow (Bengals), James Conner (Cardinals), Carson Wentz (Colts), Cam Newton (Panthers) and Derwin James (Chargers).
Seven games remain in the 49ers’ revitalized playoff push. Next up: the Minnesota Vikings and Kirk Cousins, who got sacked twice by Bosa in the 2019 season’s 27-10 playoff win by the host 49ers.
The 49ers’ defensive front is not as strong as that 2019 version (nor is the 49ers’ secondary). But there are optimistic signs from his fellow defensive ends. Arden Key has three sacks in the past three games. Samson Ebukam only has one sack this season — a third-down stop at Chicago — but he nearly got one on the snap between Bosa’s two sacks Sunday. Dee Ford is eligible to come off injured reserve after missing four games.
Speaking of eligibility, Bosa and fellow 2019 draft pick Samuel are eligible for contract extensions after this season, though the 49ers can delay Bosa’s pay day by eventually exercising his 2023 fifth-year option ($16.6 million, per OverTheCap.com). Both players are certainly invaluable to the 49ers’ current cause.
— Starting running back Elijah Mitchell (finger) is day to day after missing Sunday’s game. “He wasn’t close by the time we got to Sunday. I’m not going to guess this week,” Shanahan said. “I know he couldn’t go today so we’ll see how he is Wednesday and take it day by day.”
— Trey Sermon’s 10 carries (32 yards) and 23-yard reception reflected the progress he’s shown in recent practices, said Shanahan, noting that “a pecking order” remains among the running backs and Sermon remains behind Mitchell and Jeff Wilson Jr.
— Wide receiver Jauan Jennings received praise from Shanahan for, first, recovering a Wilson fumble on the opening drive. Jennings’ other notable act came when he was “competing as hard as you can on a run play and playing to the whislte,” and Shanahan was pleased Jennings did not retaliate when punched in the face by Jaguars safety Rayshawn Jenkins, who was ejected to enhance the 49ers’ second touchdown drive.
— Brandon Aiyuk’s emergence in recent weeks has shown with not only catches but his other actions. “His physicality in the run game, his physicality with the ball in his hand and his physicality whebn the ball is in the air, his game has become a lot sharper,” Shanahan said. “He’s not hesitating on anything and you can see his confidence growing, and that of his quarterback and teammates around him.”
— Why didn’t Trey Lance replace Jimmy Garoppolo earlier than to kill out the final three minutes? “I’m not just playing one person for his own experience,” Shanahan said. “I think about the whole team and how to win that day.” Once the 49ers made it a four-score margin with 5 minutes left, Shanahan pulled his starters.
— Right guard Laken Tomlinson (ankle) and cornerback Davontae Harris (knee) will be limited this week after Sunday’s injuries.
— Rookie Jaylon Moore started at right tackle but veteran Tom Compton played there throughout the second half, and Shanahan said both will play “until we see a bigger difference.”