Matt Breida thought his season might have been over after he hyperextended his right knee in the second quarter last week in Kansas City.
“When it first happened, I thought it was a lot worse than what it was,” Breida said Friday, after being listed as questionable to play Sunday against the Los Angeles Chargers.
Breida took an outside run to the right, made a misstep, planted his foot in the newly sodded turf and his knee bent backwards. He writhed in pain on the field, but returned in the third quarter. He sparked a touchdown drive with runs of 21 and 27 yards before finishing with 90 rushing yards and 27 receiving.
But now Breida, who’s tied with Ezekiel Elliott for the NFL lead in rushing yards, is still not 100 percent. He’s weighing helping new quarterback C.J. Beathard on Sunday versus the long-term health of his knee.
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“I want to play,” he said. “(But) we have a long season. I know I have to be smart, too. Understand that if I’m not going to cut off it, not going to be able to run, why go out there and get myself hurt and hurt the team at the same time?”
The 49ers are already considerable underdogs against the Chargers a week after losing starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to a season-ending ACL tear, which came nearly a month after losing top running back Jerick McKinnon for the year with an ACL tear during a light practice.
Breida has been one of San Francisco’s lone bright spots during a 1-2 start. He has 274 yards on just 32 carries. He’s averaging a robust 8.6 yards per rush thanks largely to improved blocking from his teammates.
In fact, the 49ers through three games are averaging nearly 14 yards per carry on runs over right tackle, and over eight per carry over left tackle. Breida is largely responsible given his running style that fits in Kyle Shanahan’s offense.
But Breida isn’t concerned teams are going to gear up for outside runs when he’s in the game. There’s a contingency plan.
“The way our offense is set up, they may look like outside runs, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to go outside. They may hit back across the field,” Breida said. “So it can go anywhere. You just got to be able to read it. If they want to key outside, then we’ll just go inside.”
Breida was expected to miss practice Wednesday, but was a limited participant before practicing Thursday and Friday. If he’s forced to miss the game, the 49ers’ top option would be Alfred Morris, who’s averaging 3.8 yards per carry on the year, though he played well against the Chiefs with 67 yards and his first touchdown of the season. Raheem Mostert has just one carry and is more known for his work on special teams.
The 49ers could promote undrafted rookie Jeff Wilson Jr. from the practice squad. He logged 61 yards on 19 carries (3.2 average) with a touchdown in the preseason.
Sherman ruled out, Tartt doubtful — As expected, cornerback Richard Sherman was ruled out of Sunday’s game with a left calf strain. It’s his first missed contest since joining San Francisco. He suffered the injury in the second quarter against the Chiefs. Jimmie Ward is expected to start in his place.
Jaquiski Tartt is listed as doubtful and seems likely to miss his second straight game following a shoulder injury suffered late in Week 2. That means Antone Exum Jr. is expected to make his second consecutive start.
Exum finished second on the team with nine tackles, a sack and a forced fumble against the Chiefs. The 49ers made a contract offer to long-time safety Eric Reid this week, but he signed with the Panthers on Thursday.
“Exum’s here for a reason,” Shanahan said. “I thought he got a lot better as the game went. I think he made some mistakes early in the game and I think once he played a little bit more I think it slowed down for him.“