NaVorro Bowman Getting Back to Full Speed, Leading 49ers by Example

The San Francisco 49ers badly needed a victory against the Atlanta Falcons.

Two red-zone touchdowns and a stifling defensive performance earned the 49ers a narrow, 17-16, victory in Week 9.

NaVorro Bowman knew that getting back in the win column was just what the doctor ordered as San Francisco heads into its bye weekend with a 3-6 record.

"It was huge," Bowman said. "Based on what we've been through early in the season, for us to get that "W," and for us to play the way we played, that says a lot about the work we've put in."

The 49ers star linebacker was a standout in the game, recording seven tackles, two tackles for loss and his second sack of the season. And it wasn't just the box score where Bowman turned heads.

Bowman's sideline-to-sideline speed was evident throughout the game. The linebacker flew around the field. As it turned out, there was something to those observations.

The linebacker told media following the win that "the corner was being turned" in regards to the knee injury that kept him out all of 2014.

That sounds like fantastic news. And in a 1-on-1 interview this week with 49ers Studios, Bowman explained exactly what those words meant.

"It's just me being able to go out there and bounce around as quickly as I need to," the linebacker said. "Early in the season, I don't think I was getting to the ball or reacting as fast as I wanted to."

Bowman added that he's felt noticeable differences in his play compared to the beginning of the season.

"I'm just more confident, just reacting a lot faster and understanding what teams are trying to do," he said. "I'm able to react when I need to. I can go into those piles and curl up the way I want to curl up and make those tackles.

"Early on in the season, I was a little hesitant diving into those piles because I hadn't done it in so long. It's just really exciting to see."

In addition to his fourth-quarter sack of Matt Ryan and tackle for loss on Devonta Freeman three yards in the backfield, there was one additional play that was signature Bowman.

On a power run to the right side of the field in the first half, Bowman took on a block from Falcons tackle Ryan Schraeder. While engaged, the linebacker saw Freeman running towards the sideline. Bowman was able to get his left arm free and make a one-armed tackle to force an Atlanta punt.

"(That's the) one play where I thought that I did a good job of getting engaged with the offensive lineman and was still able to come off (of the block) and make the tackle," Bowman said. "That showed that I was stable and able to still have the strength to make that tackle."

Bowman led the way, but the entire 49ers defense stood tall against the Falcons.

San Francisco held Freeman, the NFL's leading rusher, to 12 carries on 12 yards. Bowman called the performance the marquee moment for the defense this season.

"I think it's a confidence booster for everyone on the defense, especially the young guys," Bowman said. "For them to hold Julio (Jones) the way they did, and for us to stop the run, I think it was a great thing. For us to do that, losing games and going through a change at quarterback, I think it says a lot about our team."

Bowman explained that he's been working hard to make the young players on the defense feel as comfortable as possible. The linebacker said that if those players know he believes in them, they will worry more about making plays and less about not making mistakes.

That growing belief was on display in Week 9.

"For them to break on the ball, that speaks to confidence," Bowman said. "When you're young and everything is moving so fast, you're kind of hesitant on the point when you need to break on the ball."

Bowman has quickly become the unquestioned leader of the defense and a face of the franchise. The departures of Patrick Willis and Justin Smith as well as Antoine Bethea's season-ending injury sped up that process for the star linebacker.

And for a guy who prefers to lead by example, Bowman's knee approaching 100 percent couldn't have come at a better time.

"I'm learning also: To be the guy and understand that these guys are looking to me to perform a certain way," Bowman said. "I'm trying to lead by example. When I had Pat and the older guys here, I had time to feel my way through it. It's more of me putting pressure on myself to go out there and have a good game because I have these young guys that are all looking up to me." 

So as the voice of the team, what did he tell the rest of the locker room before getting a few much-needed days off?

"Don't relax too much on this bye week," Bowman said. "Just try to stay on edge, understanding that we still have a long season ahead of us. What we did last Sunday, let's keep building on that."

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