Against the St. Louis Rams, Chris Borland played better and better as the game went, racking up 17 solo tackles according to Pro Football Focus. As Fooch demonstrated in his weekly PFF recap of the latest game, Borland had an excellent game at stopping the run. I would argue that he had a much better game than you can expect a rookie, starting only his second game in the NFL, should have. He still has some things to work on, of course, but that shouldn't take away from what he did against the Rams.
Vic Fangio backs this notion up in his recent presser. Admitting that Borland did make a few mistakes, he praises the rookie, saying that he "played a good football game" and that he "got better from his first start to his second start." These are great signs for Borland. The young linebacker's game was good enough to warrant a question about what Fangio will do with Borland and Michael Wilhoite once Patrick Willis gets back - will he bench Wilhoite in favor of Borland? Split time? Play them in different packages? The possibilities are numerous - numerous enough, in fact, that Fangio sort of dodges the question (probably prudently) by saying that the team "will make that decision at that time."
Willis' return raises an interesting question - a question that Fangio will indeed have to figure out when he returns (which could be this week, though Willis is questionable). I think, however, that it's time for the team to start asking themselves a similar question about NaVorro Bowman's return from injury too.
So far this season we've been acting under the assumption that Bowman could return around late November to early December. The specific dates are still up in the air, especially considering the troubling nature of his injury. But it's safe to say that we were expecting his return to close out the season. I think, however, that we were also expecting the 49ers to be better than 4-4 midway through the season too. I wonder if these two expectations are actually in competition. Basically, should Bowman play this year if the team cannot muster up a playoff run?
It's still too early to really ask such a question. There is still a legitimate shot that we can snag a wildcard ticket to the playoff dance. Frank Gore seems pretty darn certain we will. And while it is difficult for me to have the some sort of confidence that Gore has in a playoff-oriented teleology, I sure hope that he is right. Gore's endorsement is certainly the one you want, though. Additionally, Bowman appears to be making considerable progress, as he is doing some change of direction pursuit work.
But, should the 49ers drop their next couple of games, not only would that be devastating emotionally, but it would likely devastate our chances at the playoffs. What's really scary is the fact that these next two games are on the road against competent teams, if a bit uninspiring. That seems to be the 49ers' weakness this season. So, if they should lose these next two games, would it make sense to put a halt on bringing back Bowman? Giving him more time to rest the injury and the rehab without the stress of a football game might be safer. It might also bring him back stronger for the next season. In addition, it gives the younger guys, like Borland, a chance to get important game reps.