The 49ers suffered their first season-ending injury of the year Thursday night when safety Antoine Bethea reached out to make a tackle and tore his pectoral muscle.
The injury landed the veteran safety on injured reserve and likely will thrust a rookie, Jaquiski Tartt, into a starting role over the final nine games of the season.
Bethea’s bad luck also created a space on the 53-man roster, which the 49ers filled by activating wide receiver Jerome Simpson.
Simpson, 29, was suspended for the first six games this season in relation to a July 2014 arrest when he was cited on misdemeanor charges of having marijuana and an open bottle of alcohol in his car while driving with a restricted license. It was his third arrest since January 2012. His team at the time, the Vikings, cut him at that point, and he did not play last season.
Simpson, who has 145 career catches for 2,004 yards, presumably will compete with Quinton Patton for playing time as the team’s third wide receiver. Patton had one catch for two yards Thursday and was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct for arguing with officials after teammate Reggie Bush was struck by a Seahawk following a fair catch.
145 Career receptions by 49ers wide receiver Jerome Simpson
“Yeah, we don’t need to act like that, and I talked to Quinton about that,” 49ers coach Jim Tomsula said. “Things are going to happen that you’re going to disagree with, but we’ve got to keep ourselves under control.”
Bethea was voted the team’s MVP last season by the coaches. He ranks third on the 49ers in tackles and is one of the veteran leaders on a unit that has struggled in all aspects but especially against the pass. San Francisco ranks 20th in points allowed per game and 30th in pass defense and overall defense.
30th 49ers’ ranking in pass defense and overall defense
Bethea was injured late in the second quarter when he made a lunging, one-armed tackle on wide receiver Doug Baldwin. Bethea also was flagged for a face-mask penalty on the play. He was replaced by second-round pick Tartt, who was injured late in the game but not seriously.
Tartt finished with eight tackles, including one for a loss.
“I feel like I played OK,” Tartt said afterward. “I could have done a lot better. The coaches do a good job of preparing me if either safety goes down. So I feel like I did all right.”
Et cetera – Tomsula said the 49ers were prepared to rotate linebacker Gerald Hodges into the game for NaVorro Bowman, whose surgically repaired knee had only three days of rest, but that Bowman didn’t want to leave the game. He played 62 of 72 possible snaps.
▪ Tomsula said he was confident running back Carlos Hyde won’t make his foot injury, described by Hyde as a stress fracture, worse by playing on it.
“With our medical staff, we’re not going to put him in any danger,” Tomsula said. “I have complete confidence. Our people don’t put people on the field that are at risk to further injure themselves.”
The 49ers have two other backup safeties, Jimmie Ward and L.J. McCray. Ward, however, has served as the team’s primary nickel cornerback over the last four weeks.