The 49ers won big against the Buccaneers on Sunday but came away with significant concerns around All-Pro safety Talanoa Hufanga.
Hufanga left the game with a non-contact injury after planting his right leg in pass coverage.
After the game, he was seen in the San Francisco locker room on crutches and wearing a knee brace. Head coach Kyle Shanahan told reporters that Hufanga “most likely” sustained a season-ending torn ACL. Hufanga will undergo testing to confirm the severity of his injury. If confirmed, the injury is a significant blow to a strong San Francisco secondary.
Hufanga, 23, earned a full-time starting job with the 49ers last year in his second NFL season. He started all 17 games, tallying four interceptions, two forced fumbles, nine passes defended, two sacks and 66 tackles. He earned Pro Bowl and first-team All-Pro honors for his efforts. A versatile defender who makes plays all over the field, he will not be easily replaced in San Francisco’s secondary.
Rookie backup Ji’Ayir Brown took Hufanga’s place in the lineup and made an immediate impact. He intercepted Bucs quarterback Baker Mayfield then broke up a fourth-down pass in the end zone to help seal the win in the fourth quarter.
His effort earned praise from head coach Kyle Shanahan.
“I thought he did a hell of a job,” Shanahan said. “To lose a player like Huf in a game and for him to come in and step it up big and make two huge plays.”
Brown is in line to step into a starting role with critical games against the Seattle Seahawks and Philadelphia Eagles coming up on the 49ers schedule.