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Gold Standard: Can Nick Bosa cement his case for Defensive Player of the Year tonight?

He might have to in order for the 49ers to win

The eyes of the NFL world will be on Tennessee tonight when the 49ers come to town to face the Titans. The Niners themselves certainly have plenty to play for as a team, but some individual players have a lot on the line as well. Chief among them, defensive end Nick Bosa, who is in the conversation for both the Defensive Player of the Year and Comeback Player of the Year awards. In today’s Gold Standard podcast, we asked whether a big game against Tennessee could give Bosa the momentum he needs to take home some hardware.

It would be hard to overstate how amazing Bosa’s season has been to this point. Most people know that Bosa was coming off of a season-ending knee injury in 2020, but not many realize the full extent of that injury. Earlier this month, Eric Branch spoke with Bosa’s surgeon Dr. Neal ElAttrache and found out the grim details. According to ElAttrache, Bosa required an ACL reconstruction, suffered a torn MCL and a torn lateral meniscus, “which was sort of dislocated out of his knee.”

Ow.

Given all of that, Bosa simply being able to play football at the start of the regular season would have been quite an accomplishment. Bosa being half of what he was as a rookie would have been remarkable. Bosa coming back and being a one-man wrecking crew is freakin’ incredible.

Yet, here we sit just hours away from Week 16’s game against the Titans. Bosa is tied for third in the league in sacks (15), leading the league in tackles for loss (18), second in quarterback hits (29), and tied for the league lead in forced fumbles (4) - all while being double-teamed more than anyone else in the sport. He should have already been at the forefront of everyone’s mind when it came to Comeback Player of the Year, but what about Defensive Player of the Year?

Given the state of Tennessee’s offensive line and the fact that tonight is a stand-alone game in prime time, Bosa has an opportunity to make his case in front of the world. The Titans were already down two starting offensive linemen when the day began, and word came this afternoon that backup tackle Kendall Lamm tested positive for COVID-19 and will not be available for the game. With Bosa given the freedom to line up on either side and the fact that he has been equally successful as a pass rusher from both sides, Tennessee should be in for a world of trouble.

Finally, whether it’s right or wrong, the narrative is a huge part of who wins awards in any sport. Merit is important, sure, but a good story is what truly moves the needle. Personally, I thought Dak Prescott was a shoo-in for the Comeback Player of the Year award the second he hurt his ankle last year.

There’s hardly a better story for voters than the quarterback of America’s Team returning after a gruesome ankle injury and leading the team to the playoffs.

After a hot start, however, Prescott’s play has tailed off to the point where the defense is being largely credited for their recent success rather than the play of the quarterback. That same narrative, though, might hurt Bosa’s case when it comes to Defensive Player of the Year, thanks to the fantastic rookie year of Micah Parsons. Oh yeah, there’s also this TJ Watt guy in Pittsburgh that’s pretty good.

A big game from Bosa against Tennessee could elevate his story quite a bit. A national audience would get to see a guy returning from a major injury terrorize a potential playoff team in the AFC while at the same time cementing his own team’s playoff chances and inching closer to a franchise record for sacks. If timing is everything, the time is right now.

You can hear a full preview of tonight’s game in the Gold Standard podcast, which is available here, and everywhere you get your podcasts.