ALAMEDA, Calif. — NaVorro Bowman’s impact in his first game with the Raiders extended well beyond the 11 tackles and one quarterback hurry he was credited with.
While that was a season high for Bowman and matched the most by any Oakland linebacker this season, Bowman left his biggest mark in the huddle and on the sideline where he helped settle a defense that had been mostly erratic through six games.
Raiders defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. wasn’t too surprised.
“NaVorro is a seasoned veteran. He’s an All-Pro a few times over, so he understands the game,” Norton said Thursday. “He’s smooth, he’s smart, he’s a playmaker. He brings a calmness to the huddle that we haven’t seen and we’re very happy that he’s on our team.”
That Bowman played as well as he did shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise. He was a four-time All-Pro and a centerpiece to four top-five defenses during six-plus seasons in San Francisco.
Bowman was also one of the few remaining links to the team’s run of three consecutive appearances in the NFC championship game before the 49ers released him on Oct. 13.
Three days later, Bowman was in a Raiders uniform and cramming like a college student for midterms.
“I love challenges and I felt like last week was a challenge for me personally and a risk for the Raiders to take with putting me out there so fast,” Bowman said.
“I didn’t want to let them down and I also wanted to step up to the challenge. With me having this full week of preparation I look to get better at the calls and the defense.”
Bowman wasn’t content with learning just the basics of the Raiders defensive schemes, even though he had less than 72 hours to cram before Oakland’s game against Kansas City last week. He and linebackers coach Sal Sunseri worked overtime to get Bowman ready.
The result — a defense that was still uneven, but held the Chiefs scoreless in the fourth quarter and forced a three-and-out on Kansas City’s final possession, setting the stage for the Raiders’ latest fourth-quarter comeback behind quarterback Derek Carr.
“He was obsessed with playing and playing every down,” Norton said. “We came into it trying to give him just little pieces of the meal and he wanted the whole feast, he wanted the whole plate. He was prepared, he was ready, he wanted it. His performance was just a result of the way he prepared during the week.”
Questions over Bowman’s health — he tore the ACL in his left knee during the 2014 NFC championship game and missed 12 games a year earlier because of a torn Achilles — were partly why he was let go by the 49ers. San Francisco is also in a rebuild and wants to go younger — first-round pick Reuben Foster was moved to middle linebacker after Bowman was let go.
The Raiders, who have had a glaring hole in the middle of their defense for more than a decade, welcomed Bowman into the fold then watched the 29-year-old play a decisive role in a game that very well may have salvaged Oakland’s season.
“You can’t put any limits on a man like that who has a high opinion of himself, a high opinion of his game and he’s played well,” Norton said.
“He’s been considered the best linebacker for a while. To have him on our team and to see it first hand and to have the younger players see that example of that’s what it takes, that’s what it looks like and to get the type of results he did is very important for our young guys. Because we have a lot of young people in that position.”
NOTES: Rookie Marquel Lee, who started the first five games at middle linebacker for the Raiders, has missed the past two because of a right ankle injury and has been limited in practice this week. CBs David Amerson (foot) and Gareon Conley (shin) were held out for the second time this week. Safety Karl Joseph (groin) was also downgraded and did not practice.