Nick Bosa had the disposition of someone who had to go home and finish homework.
Unlike teammates DeForest Buckner and Richard Sherman, who wore high-priced suits to their podium sessions Sunday after the 49ers’ 51-13 win over the Carolina Panthers, Bosa wore athletic shorts, a hooded sweatshirt and sneakers as he approached a swarm of reporters eagerly awaiting a chance to ask questions of the talented rookie pass rusher. He walked slowly, with his signature duck-footed gate and broad shoulders hunched over.
What had Bosa just done?
He had three sacks, a pass breakup and his first career interception against the Carolina Panthers. He was the best player on the field in a game between one sure-fire playoff team and another that came into the game as the No. 6 seed in the NFC.
Yet Bosa seemed unimpressed, even after fans at Levi’s Stadium chanted his name amid the second signature performance of his career. The other signature moment was his explosive debut on Monday Night Football, in which he got his flag-planting retribution of Baker Mayfield earlier this month.
“It’s who I am,” said Bosa when asked why he seemed so relaxed. “I’m just happy, I mean I’m super happy, don’t get me wrong. But I don’t know. That’s just me.”
Bosa has been the 49ers’ best defensive player since the Week 4 bye when his training camp ankle injury finally healed. His three sacks Sunday gave him seven in seven games, while San Francisco yielded 230 yards of total offense to the Panthers. It marked the fourth straight game Bosa and Co. have allowed 100 or fewer net passing yards.
And, of course, San Francisco improved to 7-0 for the first time since 1990 and continued to prove skeptics wrong who might argue the team hasn’t played any good opponents.
“We knew this was a really good test and we knew we were gonna have to play an all around game, offense and defense, special teams,” Bosa said. “But it was the same, same vibe. Halftime we were pretty happy with the result and then they made the push in the third quarter and then we just locked in and it was over from there. That’s a really good team we just played. That’s a good win.”
The 49ers jumped out to a 27-3 lead at halftime as they dominated the Panthers on both side of the ball. The defense had four sacks, including Bosa’s three, while running back Tevin Coleman scored three straight touchdowns. Coleman finished with four on the day while rookie receiver Deebo Samuel added a touchdown run in the third quarter and Raheem Mostert had a long scoring run in garbage time.
San Francisco outgained the Panthers, 388-230. It was the first time the 49ers allowed more than 200 yards of total offense since Sept. 22 against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Observers knew Bosa could rush the passer after he showed flashes during his brief career at Ohio State. It was the reason he was the No. 2 pick in the draft.
But they didn’t know he could make plays like his interception on the final play of the third quarter.
Panthers quarterback Kyle Allen (19 of 37, 158 yards, no touchdowns, three interceptions, 28.9 rating), wanted to throw a bubble screen to his left. The offensive lineman blocking Bosa tried cutting his legs out from underneath him. Bosa maintained his balance, leaped, made the interception and rumbled 46 yards the other way, nearly stiff-arming Allen and a Panthers receiver en route to a touchdown.
But Bosa was stopped short, which drew a sarcastic hint of criticism from his head coach.
“The play that he made on the interception was one of the more impressive plays that I’ve seen from a D-lineman,” Kyle Shanahan said. “(I) thought he should have scored, but it’s always nice when they don’t and they let the offense score too. So, it was alright.”
San Francisco wound up settling for a Robbie Gould field goal, which was its only stalled red-zone attempt on the afternoon as the 49ers went 4-for-5.
“I’m really happy he’s on my team because I really don’t want to block him,” tight end George Kittle said of Bosa. “It’s not very fun to do it in practice, but I rather do it then than in a game.”
Sherman made the case Bosa should be considered for defensive player of the year, not just defensive rookie of the year. He might have a case given the meteoric rise of San Francisco’s defense has made during the surprising turnaround.
“He’s an incredibly poised player. He’s everything you can ask for,” said Sherman who logged his third interception of the season. “When he came in here, if you watched him in Week 1 (in the offseason) like we got to, he plays like a 10-year vet. He plays with such a savviness and such a poise, such aggression, it’s like he’s been playing ... on this level.”
Bosa’s first sack came after Allen stepped away from a pressure by Buckner up the middle on Carolina’s first third down of the game. Buckner has been one of the NFL’s most disruptive interior pass rushers since entering the league in 2016. But lately he’s seen his hard work rewarded with the help of Bosa and Arik Armstead, who also had two sacks Sunday.
“In the past, (Allen) probably would’ve snuck through and made a play down the field,” Buckner said. “If someone is providing pressure from the outside or inside, someone is going to end up with a sack. It’s pretty fun to see. Nick was saying on the sideline, ‘I have never had a sack where I fell down and got back up and it was just right there.’”
Added Bosa: “Whenever your moves are working really good, it’s just a good feeling. And once you get a sack early, it kind of lets you calm down. Two of those sacks could have been Buckner’s easily. We have kind of gone back and forth giving each other sacks this year.”
Next up for the 49ers: a trip to the Arizona Cardinals on Thursday night, with Bosa going against No. 1 overall draft pick Kyler Murray, who lost to the Saints on Sunday, 31-9.
“It’s a division game,” he said. “We’re gonna play as hard as we can. We’re gonna get recovered as fast as possible. I’ve never done a game this quick, so it will be a new challenge for me.”