Being on a team where the three linebackers by your side consist of Aldon Smith, Ahmad Brooks and Patrick Willis, it seems like it would be awfully hard for any player to receive special recognition. Then again, NaVorro Bowman isn’t just “any player.”
After being drafted by the 49ers in the third round of the 2010 NFL draft out of Penn State, Bowman had to wait a year behind veteran Takeo Spikes during his rookie season before teaming with Patrick Willis to form the most ferocious inside linebacker duo in the league. In 2011, Bowman got his chance to start and made the most of it by posting the second most solo tackles in the NFL that season with 111. He was voted first-team all pro each of the three years that he has been a starter, but it was his 2013 campaign that cemented him as a true hero to 49er fans everywhere, and should have made him the defensive player of the year.
This past season, even while playing alongside the pro bowl linebackers mentioned above, Bowman escalated his game to a whole new level. It was not just the gaudy stats put up by Bowman that created his spectacular season, but it was his ability to single handedly take over a game. The first example of this came in week four, when the 49ers had to travel to St. Louis for a Thursday night matchup. The 49ers had just dropped two games in a row and were in jeopardy of becoming 1-3, and to top off their misfortune, Bowman’s partner in crime Patrick Willis was injured the week before and would not be able to suit up for the game against the Rams. Enter NaVorro Bowman. His six tackle, two sack, and one forced fumble performance put the 49ers offense in prime position to work with a short field the whole game.
Although he was magnificent all year, Bowman’s biggest moment of the season came during week 16 against the Atlanta Falcons in the last game played at Candlestick Park. With the 49ers up 27-24 with less than 2:00 minutes to play, Atlanta was driving down and was looking for the go-ahead touchdown. But NaVorro had different plans. Bowman snatched a football intended for Atlanta wide receiver Harry Douglas and took the interception 89 yards back for a touchdown and solidified the 49ers’ spot in the post season, and what should have been his candidacy for NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
There was one other moment this year that epitomized what kind of man and player NaVorro Bowman is, and unfortunately it was his last play of the season. During the NFC Championship game, the 49ers were down 20-17 late in the fourth quarter. On a third and goal, Seattle reached the one yard line and while their receiver made a second effort to cross the goal line, Bowman was able to strip the football and hold onto it. Unfortunately while this was occurring, the receiver fell on Bowman’s knee and made it bend in an awkward way. The amazing thing about this play was that while Bowman was writhing in pain from tearing his ACL, he was still able to hold onto the fumble that he forced. Unfortunately Seattle maintained possession due to the call not being reviewable after a Seahawk came up with the ball, but Bowman’s heart and will to not let down his team during that moment gave him a spot in every 49er fan’s heart.
Maybe the biggest snub during the off season awards was the day before the Super Bowl. Not only did Bowman not win Defensive Player of the Year, but he did not even receive a single vote. Luke Kuechly, also had an outstanding year, but when you put both of the All-Pro linebacker’s numbers next to each other, it leaves some fans scratching their heads as to why Bowman did not win, or at least come close to taking home the award.
Luke Kuechly: 156 tackles, 2 sacks, 11 passes defensed, 4 INT, 0 QB hits, 8 QB hurries, 14 MT, 61 stops, 7.7 PFF rating
NaVorro Bowman: 145 tackles, 5 sacks, 2 INT, 1 TD, 9 PD, 4 FF, 2 FR, 3 QB hits, 14 QB hurries, 1 BP, 12 MT, 67 stops, 20.0 PFF rating
Both players had incredible years and will be two of the top linebackers in the NFL for years to come, and while both were the best players on their defenses the whole year and made great plays during all of their games, Bowman separated himself with his ability to make the game-changing plays. Expect San Francisco to rejoice when he is able to return from his injury next year and reclaim his spot as part of the NFL’s premier linebacker core.