CenturyLink Field continued to be a house of horrors for the 49ers, who lost two more starters to injuries Sunday– including their defensive MVP, linebacker NaVorro Bowman, to what coach Jim Harbaugh said was a likely ACL tear.
Bowman suffered the gruesome injury in the fourth quarter when Seahawks wide receiver Jermaine Kearse fell onto his outstretched leg. Bowman was pulling the ball free from Kearse’s grasp near the goal line as safety Eric Reid drove the receiver into Bowman.
Bowman recovered the ball, but the officials ruled he lost it again and the Seahwks recovered. He was carted into the locker room, his head bowed, and did not return. He slowly left the locker room afterward while using two black metal canes.
Several 49ers knelt as Bowman was loaded onto the cart.
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“I look at him as my brother, as my partner in crime on the field,” linebacker Patrick Willis said. “I know how tough he is, and when he couldn’t get up on his own ... I could hear him yelling. I never heard him yell like that, or stay down.”
Meanwhile, left guard Mike Iupati, who paved the way for Frank Gore last week against Carolina, had to be helped off the field early in the second quarter with a broken ankle.
Iupati missed four games earlier this season with a sprained knee. In the run-up to Sunday’s game, he said that injury, as well as a shoulder injury he suffered early in the season, finally were feeling better. He had perhaps his best game of the season against the Panthers as Gore ran for 84 yards and averaged nearly 5 yards a carry.
Sunday, Gore had only 14 yards on 11 carries. The 49ers rushed for 161 yards, but 130 came on Colin Kaepernick’s scrambles.
Iupati was hurt on a fourth-and-goal touchdown leap by fullback Anthony Dixon, who landed on Iupati. Another player fell on Iupati’s lower leg in the pile. Adam Snyder filled in at left guard when Iupati missed time earlier this season, and he filled in for most of the second quarter and the second half Sunday.
Last season in Seattle, tight end Vernon Davis was knocked out of the game with a concussion, while a knee injury ended receiver Mario Manningham’s season in the same game. Earlier this season in Seattle, nose tackle Ian Williams was lost for the season with a broken ankle.
Bowman is likely to miss the 49ers’ entire offseason and perhaps part of the regular season as he rehabilitates his knee.
He led the 49ers in tackles this season, and his 14 stops Sunday led the 49ers. Earlier this month, teammates voted Bowman the winner of their most prestigious honor, the Len Eshmont Award. Willis thinks Bowman deserves one more award.
“If he doesn’t get Defensive Player of the Year, then I don’t know what they go by,” he said.
Rogers returns – Cornerback Carlos Rogers, who missed the 49ers’ first two playoff games with a hamstring strain, was back Sunday but not in his familiar starting role. He instead was in the nickel cornerback role Perrish Cox played in the previous two games.
Rogers was covering Kearse on his pivotal 35-yard touchdown catch on fourth and 7 in the fourth quarter that gave the Seahawks their first lead.
Another cornerback, Eric Wright, was inactive. At one point this season, it appeared Wright would have a big role on the 49ers’ 2014 defense. However, he was beaten out by Cox before the Green Bay playoff game and did not play Sunday, suggesting that plan is now in doubt.
Hello, old friend – Return man LaMichael James briefly left the game with a neck injury after he was hit hard by former teammate Ricardo Lockette following a muffed punt return to start the second quarter. Cornerback Darryl Morris recovered the ball, and James returned to the game.