The 49ers’ fears came true Monday morning, as an MRI scan confirmed All-Pro safety Talanoa Hufanga suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.
49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said in a conference call with Bay Area reporters that Hufanga will undergo season-ending surgery to repair the torn ligament.
Hufanga suffered the injury on a non-contact play when his right knee buckled while trying to tackle Tampa Bay running back Rashad White in the third quarter of the 49ers’ 27-14 win Sunday in Santa Clara.
Initial tests indicated that Hufanga had suffered a devastating injury. He was transported from the 49ers’ sideline to the locker room on a cart.
Family members met with Huvanga in the 49ers’ locker room, and he left Levi’s Stadium after the game on crutches with a large brace on his leg.
“This is disgusting news,” 49ers cornerback Fred Warner said Sunday evening, after the team’s medical staff determined that Hufanga likely suffered a torn ACL.
Coming back from an ACL injury usually takes about nine months, if there are no setbacks along the way. Hufanga has a chance to get ready for the start of the 2024 season.
“He’ll need a plan for training camp, but with the time and everything, if things go smoothly, he should be ready for Week 1,” Shanahan said Monday.
Hufanga, 23, is a three-year NFL player selected by the 49ers in the fifth round of the 2021 NFL Draft out of USC.
He had a breakout season a year ago when he moved into a starting role. Hufanga was named to the NFC Pro Bowl team as well as first-team All-Pro after recording 97 tackles, four interceptions and a touchdown.
He is tied for the team lead this season with three interceptions.
Rookie Ji’Ayir Brown, a third-round draft pick out of Penn State, took over in Hufanga’s absence and ended up running a couple of plays late in the fourth quarter to help preserve the 49ers’ victory over the Buccaneers.
The Browns broke up a fourth-down pass to Baker Mayfield in the end zone while in coverage against four-time Pro Bowl receiver Mike Evans with 6:39 remaining.
Then, Brown made his first NFL interception by making a diving catch in the end zone on a pass that was tipped by 49ers linebacker Dre Greenlaw with 3:38 remaining in the game.
“He stepped in when Huff went down and got that huge pick to seal the game, I know that was good for him,” 49ers defensive lineman Arik Armstead said. “It was a timely play to finish the game and get us off the field.”
Brown is scheduled to make his first NFL start on Thursday night when the 49ers return to action in a key NFC West matchup at the Seattle Seahawks.
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