So much to get to today—Belichick’s 300th, Brees’ comeback, Green Bay’s 7-1, Deshaun Watson’s play of the year, a Zebra-marred loss for the Bucs, the bizarre coaching stratagem of Matt Nagy, J.J. Watt’s sorrow, Joe Flacco is pissed, Browns keep Browning. In due time, all of it. Bosa may have thought he was coming to a good spot when the Niners picked him second overall last April, but now he knows how fortuitous it really was: He’s one of five first-round picks in the front four, and the rotation keeps the pressure up for four quarters. If any single element is most responsible for San Francisco’s stunning rise to the top of the NFC West, it’s the defensive front, which averages a sack on 12 percent of all pass plays.
I’d argue that Bosa’s been the most impactful edge player to enter the NFL since Julius Peppers in 2002. Since 2000, 18 edge players have been picked in the top five in the past 20 NFL drafts. Bosa’s seven sacks and one interception through seven games is exactly the stat line of Peppers—and only Von Miller (six sacks, no picks) is close. No other player picked in the top five had more than four sacks in his first seven games. Probably only Peppers was asked to do as much as Bosa early, playing all over the field. And Peppers or Miller weren’t the run player Bosa’s shown so far. Bosa is a complete player in a room full of defensive-line stalwarts.
“I came into a really good situation with the D-line we have,” Bosa said from California after the game. “I was a little starstruck when I first came in here; I’ve got a bunch of first-round picks I get to roll with, and you saw what we can do today when we get a lead and they’ve got to throw.”
“He’s got to be one of the best picks in the last 10 years,” said Sherman. “He plays like a 10-year vet, with such savviness and poise.”
One of Bosa’s sacks came when he was sent sprawling by a Panther tackle; he got up and dove at Kyle Allen and ankle-sacked him. The interception was the kind of play you’d see from a DeAndre Hopkins-type of athlete. Left tackle Dennis Daley lunged at Bosa’s knees, and Bosa went sprawling outside Daley to avoid it. And when he rose … well, let him tell it. “Early in the game, [Daley] cut me really bad. Obviously, I hate to get cut [have his knees dived at]. I played the cut to the outside, and I got up, and I looked in the quarterback’s eyes. I saw what he was going to do.”
Throw the quick pass in the flat to McCaffrey, Bosa meant.
“I jumped up, and the ball went right into my arms,” he said. “After that, it was just instincts.” He escaped two tackle tries by Allen over the next 46 yards, and one by D.J. Moore, before Moore leg-tackled him near the five-yard line. The speed, the escapability, the moves—Bosa could pass for Travis Kelce. Easy.
“Ever play running back in your life?” I asked.
“No,” he said.
“Wide receiver, tight end?”
“No,” he said. “Offensive guys aren’t taught to tackle. I was able to make a couple moves.”
The top of the NFC after eight weeks:
1: San Francisco, 7-0.
T-2: Green Bay and New Orleans, 7-1.
T-4: Seattle and Minnesota, 6-2.
The 49ers have four games against their pursuers in the last eight weeks of the season. Saints, Packers, two with Seattle. They play Green Bay at home Nov. 24, then at New Orleans two weeks later. We’ll know how good the Niners are by then. A three-week stretch against teams with a combined 19-4 record (Packers, Ravens, Saints) will be the toughest three-game stretch of their season, by far.
“Have you noticed how hard it looks down the road?” I asked Bosa.
“Nah,” he said. “I mean, we got a game in three days. My focus is on that.”
Arizona, Thursday night in the desert. Another quarterback to chase. Bosa versus Kyler Murray. Two cornerstone guys, born 11 weeks apart in 1997. It’s amazing. The Niners got famous starting 40 years ago with an offensive genius molding two Hall of Fame quarterbacks. Now they might be poised to go on another strong run, and this time the defensive front shall lead them. Fascinating times for a resuscitated franchise.