SANTA CLARA, Calif. — In the closing moments of Saturday’s game against the Washington Commanders, San Francisco 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan removed his defensive starters from the game.
At that point, the Niners held a 17-point lead, and for all intents and purposes, the game was over.
But that kind of advantage is often a pass-rusher’s dream, so when Shanahan made the move, he already knew what was coming next from star defensive end Nick Bosa. A good-natured, if not at least somewhat serious, objection.
“I know he’s going to look at me right away when I do that because he wants to keep adding up the sacks, but I had to do that for the Niners,” Shanahan said.
In reality, Bosa had already done more than his share in the Niners’ 37-20 win. He was again at the center of San Francisco’s eighth consecutive win, piling up seven tackles, two sacks, a forced fumble and five pressures. It was the latest addition to Bosa’s ever-expanding case for the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year award and, according to tight end George Kittle, more fodder for his Most Valuable Player résumé.
“I think today secured his defensive MVP,” Kittle said. “I don’t know how it doesn’t. If you look at what he does every Sunday compared to everyone else around the league whether it’s offense or defense, I don’t know why he’s not in the MVP conversation, too .. . Every single day he’s just an absolute monster. All the sacks, they’re earned and deserved. He’s fantastic. He’s never not good.”
With two games to go in his fourth NFL season, Bosa is putting together his best year. Through the early Saturday games, he leads the NFL in sacks (17.5) and is third in pressures (51) while playing in 14 games. Bosa’s 17.5 sacks is a career high for him and tied him with Fred Dean for the second most in franchise history since sacks became an official statistic in 1982.
The season record for sacks in a season is 22.5, shared by TJ Watt and Michael Strahan. Bosa would need to get 5.5 over the next two games to break the record, a mark he says he could “maybe” attain. Aldon Smith’s franchise record of 19.5 sacks, however, is a more realistic goal.
“I’m kind of eyeing the 19.5 more than that [NFL record],” Bosa said.
Bosa had a breakout 2021 season in which he posted 15.5 sacks but entered this year believing there was more for him to accomplish. He credits getting more reps under his belt and an increased emphasis on film study for taking his game to the next level in 2022.
The Niners give Bosa the freedom to line up on either side of the defensive alignment, and Bosa studies each opponent carefully to look for weaknesses. He then puts together a detailed rush plan for each opposing tackle that he believes gives him an advantage every week.
“I feel like I have an answer for every type of blocker at this point,” Bosa said. “Some better than others obviously, but it’s going well.”
So well, in fact, that linebacker Fred Warner said Bosa is in the midst of playing the best ball of his relatively young career.
“It’s insane the level he’s playing at,” Warner said. “That’s a big reason why our defense is going the way it is because we know it takes all 11 to rush and the coverage works together, but knowing that he’s on the field and has that opportunity to get home, you get stickier in coverage and you’re able to sit on routes. He’s just been playing out of his mind.”
Bosa earned his third Pro Bowl nod this week and is aiming for his first All-Pro honor. While he says he’s more focused on team goals, he also doesn’t shy away from the conversation surrounding the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year award, for which he and Dallas pass-rusher Micah Parsons appear to be the front-runners.
“That’s a dream,” Bosa said. “I’ve played this game since I was 7 years old, and I played D-line the entire way through. I’ve watched guys throughout the years and just wanted to be in that position, and I finally feel like I’m kind of living out my dream.”