SANTA CLARA, Calif. — One of the first things Nick Bosa noticed about his new team was it probably shouldn’t have been picking second overall in the NFL draft. The team, on paper, was better than its record.
“Just being a football fan last year and knowing what kind of players they have on the roster,” said Bosa, the son of Keene native John Bosa. “I didn’t know to this extent how good the depth was and stuff like that. But I just knew that of the top teams picking, this was definitely the most playoff-ready team.”
The 49ers, of course, finished the 2018 season with a 4-12 record largely because franchise quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo went down three games after signing his $137.5 million contract. They entered the year with playoff expectations after Garoppolo’s exciting 5-0 finish to the previous season after being acquired in the Patriots trade. Getting Bosa — and everything it had led to — has given Garoppolo and his team a silver lining to his injury.
Put another way, the lost season produced one of the team’s most valuable players.
“Things have a way of working out,” Garoppolo said. “I always told myself it was a blessing in disguise, the ACL and everything. We got Bosa out of it. So that’s a pretty good trade off I guess.”
Now, after Garoppolo’s first full regular season as a starter, San Francisco is playing Sunday in the NFC Championship Game against the Green Bay Packers following the 13-3 finish to 2019. Bosa’s addition is a key factor in the defense ranking No. 1 in the NFL against the pass, allowing 167 yards per game.
Bosa was arguably the best player on the field during the team’s 27-10 throttling of the Minnesota Vikings and this week was named the Rookie of the Year and Defensive Rookie of the Year by the Professional Football Writers of America. He finished the regular season with 9.0 sacks and had a pair of Kirk Cousins in his postseason debut.
“Everything happens for a reason,” 49ers Coach Kyle Shanahan said. “And you need to get good players in, some difference makers, and Bosa’s definitely been a difference maker. I’m very glad we have him. I don’t wish 4-12 on anybody. But after going through it, it was nice what it brought us.”
Bosa, in the 38-7 victory over the Packers in November, sacked Aaron Rodgers once and recovered a fumble from Rodgers forced by linebacker Fred Warner during the first series. It set up San Francisco’s touchdown on the first offensive snap from the 2-yard line.
The 49ers limited Rodgers to just 104 yards on 20 of 33 completions. His 3.2 yards per attempt was the lowest average in any start of his career.
Green Bay that night lost starting right tackle Bryan Bulaga to a knee injury in the first quarter which helped San Francisco generate five sacks of Rodgers, though the 49ers were missing pass rusher Dee Ford due to a bothersome hamstring injury. Bulaga was a limited participant in the Packers’ practice on Wednesday after sitting out the Divisional Round game against the Seattle Seahawks due to an illness.
Bulaga, who’s been in the league since getting drafted in the first round in 2010, is expected back on the field Sunday giving Green Bay their duo of talented tackles opposite David Bakhtiari.
“I feel like being a veteran at tackle is probably the most advantageous because just all the savvy little tricks they have,” Bosa said. “He’s faced tons of good rushers over the years, just like their left tackle. It’s going to be even more difficult with him on the field.”