Linebacker NaVorro Bowman, the leader of the 49ers’ defense, was carted into the locker room after suffering a lower-leg injury in the third quarter. He left the stadium with a walking boot on the Achilles’ tendon area of his lower leg and will receive an MRI at Stanford Hospital that will clarify his injury.
“It stinks. It’s really, really bad,” said left tackle Joe Staley after the game. “NaVorro is a captain for us, one of our team leaders. We’re going to have to have a guy step up. That’s a huge role to fill. You can’t really replace a guy like NaVorro, but we have to have guys step up and be ready to go.”
Another major figure on the 49ers’ defense this season, first-round draft pick DeForest Buckner, went to the ground on the Cowboys’ final drive of the game. Like Bowman, he had to be helped off the field and left the stadium using crutches and with a walking boot on his left leg and foot.
Coach Chip Kelly did not have an update on either player.
Bowman, who led the NFL in tackles a year ago, was on the ground for several minutes after the injury occurred, then limped slowly to the sideline with assistance from trainers. A cart then was called to transport him into the stadium.
He started the game alongside Michael Wilhoite, not Gerald Hodges, who started the first three games. When Bowman left, Nick Bellore took over his spot at “Mike” linebacker. Wilhoite and safety Antoine Bethea both had a game-high 12 tackles.
Bowman suffered a devastating left knee injury in Seattle during the 2013 NFC championship game, which knocked him out for the 2014 season. He returned a year later, started every game and finished with a league-high 154 tackles.
Through three games, Bowman leads the 49ers with 35 tackles. After his exit, the Cowboys marched down the field and took their first lead on a 1-yard run by Cowboys tailback Ezekiel Elliott.
Buckner, meanwhile, has started all four games this season and leads the 49ers’ defensive linemen in tackles.
“It’s tough when you see anybody go down,” safety Eric Reid said. “But we’ll see what happens. If the next guy has to step in, then that’s what we have to do. Then that guy has some big shoes to fill.”
Robinson shines – Rashard Robinson, whom the 49ers drafted two spots ahead of Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, made his first NFL start and emerged with three pass breakups and five tackles.
Robinson had been competing with Keith Reaser to replace Jimmie Ward, who suffered a quadriceps injury a week earlier in Seattle. Reaser played several snaps as the team’s nickel cornerback.
“He just had a really good practice, and we kind of put (the decision) on practice,” Kelly said of Robinson. “I thought he stepped up and did some nice things.”
Prescott, meanwhile, has guided the Cowboys to a 3-1 start. He set an NFL record Sunday for a rookie quarterback by avoiding an interception in his first 131 pass attempts, although Reid had a chance at one early in the game.
Prescott finished 23 of 32 for 245 yards, two touchdowns and a 114.7 passer rating.
Anthem protest – The 49ers’ anthem protest got smaller – by one – on Sunday. Running back Mike Davis, who held his fist in the air last week in Seattle, did not do so before the Cowboys game.
Colin Kaepernick, Reid and Eli Harold knelt as they did last week. Reaser, Bethea, Robinson and Jaquiski Tartt raised their fists. The group is protesting racial injustice, especially police brutality issues, in the United States.
Et cetera – Right tackle Trent Brown’s false-start penalty in the third quarter was his first penalty of the year. Brown also gave up a sack earlier in the game, his first and the only one by one of the 49ers’ starting offensive linemen.
Two of the 49ers’ three starting receivers, Torrey Smith and Quinton Patton, finished with a single catch. The third, slot receiver Jeremy Kerley, led all receivers with six catches for 88 yards and a touchdown.
Rookie receiver Aaron Burbridge caught his first NFL regular-season pass for 5 yards on the 49ers’ opening drive.