SANTA CLARA — It was a steamy morning in Houston on Aug. 15, 2018, when Mike McGlinchey got his self-described “Welcome to the NFL” moment.
The rookie, first-round pick lined up opposite J.J. Watt, and “he flat-backed me,” McGlinchey recalled of that one-on-one drill at the 49ers-Texans scrimmage.
Now come Watt’s “Goodbye to the NFL” moment, respectfully.
Watt, 33, will retire from his 12-year career after this game. He was a three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year with the Texans (2012, ’14, ’15), a seven-time All-Pro, and a five-time Pro Bowler.
“Definitely hard not to watch him when he’s dominant through all those years,” defensive end Nick Bosa said.
What made Watt so dominant?
“Physical superiority,” Bosa concisely said.
Added McGlinchey: “He’s a sure-fire Hall of Fame player. He’s everything as advertised.”
Early action between #49ers #Texans:
Texans WR DeAndre Hopkins fights Jimmie Ward, Hopkins kicked off field but shakes Ward’s hand on way out
Mike McGlichey MET Texans J.J. Watt. “Welcome to the NFL” pic.twitter.com/3DK8CfTK3p
— Cam Inman (@CamInman) August 15, 2018
Aside from keeping Watt away from Brock Purdy, the 49ers are keenly aware of Watt’s ability to pursue from the back side in the run game or in pass rush. As McGlinchey added, the 49ers sure won’t him as much in future seasons as the Cardinals will.
Watt spent his first 10 seasons with the Texans (No. 11 overall pick in 2011), and he’s finishing up a two-year term with the Cardinals.
As he exits the stage, Bosa is stepping more to the NFL forefront, so much so that he should win his first NFL Defensive Player of the Week honors when it’s announced Feb. 9 at the NFL Honors in Glendale, Ariz., site of the Super Bowl three days later.
Bosa said he couldn’t take too much from Watt’s style because he is “a one-of-one” type of player. Watt has 10 1/2 sacks this season, including three in last month’s loss at Denver.
Bosa leads the NFL with 17 1/2 sacks, and even though he did not add to that total in Sunday’s 37-34 overtime win at Las Vegas, his pressure on the 49ers’ final defensive snap led to Tashaun Gipson’s interception, which set up Robbie Gould’s winning field goal.
Bosa got credited with his NFL-high 47th quarterback hit, for having pushed left tackle Kolton Miller into quarterback Jarrett Stidham as he threw.
Was that pressure more satisfying than any of his sacks?
“That was very satisfying, yeah, just to see the ball go up in the air like that, in a game we kind of never stopped the bleeding,” Bosa said. “To stop it there was a good time.”
Watt’s career will stop at Levi’s Stadium. He announced last week he would be retiring. The Cardinals (4-12) have lost six in a row, juxtaposed to the NFC West-champion 49ers (12-4) having won nine straight.
I have received a lot of wild fan mail over the years.
This package that arrived today is certainly being added to the list. pic.twitter.com/dxBi0rTwHE
— JJ Watt (@JJWatt) January 5, 2023
Coach Kyle Shanahan praised Watt’s strength and smarts, similar to what the coach has said about Bosa, who’s earned his third Pro Bowl honors.
“One of the best players I’ve ever gone against,” coach Kyle Shanahan said. “When you talk about MVP-type players, he was definitely one of the guys. We talked about that with Nick Bosa a couple weeks ago.”
Running back Christian McCaffrey did not officially practice for a second straight day, but he did individual conditioning during Thursday’s warmups before heading to the locker room. He was not noticeably favoring a mild ankle sprain, nor last month’s the knee issue he’s had since Nov. 27. McCaffrey produced a season-high 193 yards (121 rushing, 72 receiving) while playing 85 percent of the offensive snaps Sunday.
Running back Elijah Mitchell and wide receiver Deebo Samuel practiced for a second straight day.
Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, in his recovery from a Dec. 4 foot fracture, remains off the practice field and continues to use a knee scooter between the training room and locker room.
Defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw was out ill Thursday, after sitting out Wednesday’s session as a routine, maintenance day as he rebounds from a knee issue that sidelined him for three months. He played 22 snaps against the Raiders after 16 in his return against the Commanders.
Defensive tackle Kevin Givens participated in practice for the first time since his knee sprain Dec. 4.
Guard Aaron Banks (knee, ankle) did some light rehabilitation off to the side as practice began. He is expected to miss Sunday’s game with his sprains.