NaVorro Bowman is back. Just ask Darren McFadden.
On the opening play Sunday, the Dallas tailback ran straight into the 49ers’ Bowman, playing his first game since suffering a multi-ligament knee injury on Jan. 19, 2014. The emotionally charged linebacker started at his usual spot in the middle of the 49ers’ defense and had three productive plays before giving way to Shayne Skov.
McFadden gained a yard on the play, then lost a yard on the second snap as he tried to avoid a blitzing Bowman. The linebacker was credited with three tackles in the opening three-and-out series. After that perfect performance, his night was over.
Bowman said he became emotional during warmups, and coach Jim Tomsula told him he would play a maximum of five snaps.
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“I’m glad it was a three-and-out,” Tomsula said of the opening series. “I would have called a timeout and gotten him of the field.”
Bowman had surgery in February 2014 and sat out last season. The injury occurred as he forced a fumble in the NFC Championship Game against Seattle.
In the run-up to the exhibition opener at Houston, Bowman said he wasn’t interested in a token appearance, and he was held out. He admitted this month he didn’t feel fully recovered but was on the right track. He seemed to take another huge step forward Sunday.
“I wanted to be out there longer,” Bowman said. “But we have a long road ahead of us and just want to be smart with it. I knew I had five plays, so I wanted to make the best of it.”
With Michael Wilhoite still on the non-football injury list, Nick Moody started beside Bowman at inside linebacker.
Tomsula said last week that Wilhoite, who has a muscle strain, got “great news” from a recent MRI, implying he will return soon
Four scratched – Four players were scratched for Sunday’s game: defensive lineman Glenn Dorsey, wide receiver Bruce Ellington, linebacker Philip Wheeler and safety Jimmie Ward. Dorsey, Ellington and Wheeler have missed recent practices because of muscle strains.
Running back Reggie Bush and wide receiver Dres Anderson did not play even though they are healthy.
Ward returned to practice last week after a long rehabilitation from a foot injury he suffered in November. He is wearing a protective shell over his twice-broken foot.
Ward impressed teammates upon his return.
“He was flying – I mean, flying,” safety Eric Reid said. “The kid has wheels, and I didn’t even know it because he’s been hurt.”
Dorsey is the only starter among those who sat out. Tony Jerod-Eddie started at left defensive end in Dorsey’s place.
Blades of glory – The Cowboys apparently liked what they saw – and felt – when they inspected Levi’s Stadium’s turf on Saturday. Quarterback Tony Romo, a question mark for the game, played the first three snaps before exiting.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones had said his team was contemplating sitting out Romo because of concerns about the surface, which seemed to hold up well during the game.
Et cetera – Two 2013 draft picks, tight end Vance McDonald (ankle) and defensive end Tank Carradine (leg), left in the first quarter and did not return. Safety Craig Dahl suffered a back injury. Tomsula said early indications were none of the injuries appeared serious.
▪ As expected, second-year player Keith Reaser started at cornerback opposite Tramaine Brock. Another second-year cornerback, Kenneth Acker, entered on third downs, and Brock moved to nickel cornerback.
▪ Rookie punter Bradley Pinion, a fifth-round draft pick, also handled kickoffs to start the game. His first kickoff forced the Cowboys’ return man to retreat out of the back of the end zone.
▪ Former 49ers first-round pick A.J. Jenkins had two catches for 40 yards for the Cowboys, including a 19-yard reception despite a big hit from 49ers rookie safety Jaquiski Tartt.