The 49ers were happy to see Trent Williams back on the field and a reasonable facsimile of his usual dominating self.
The same cannot be said for at least one Jacksonville defensive back, who reacted to the sight of No. 71 bearing down on him Sunday as one would a runaway freight train.
Williams, who often describes opponents as well as teammates by their uniform numbers, put it this way after a 34-3 road win over the Jacksonville Jaguars: “It’s kind of weird, because (No.) 31, turned around and ran. I ain’t never seen that.”
That player, Darious Williams, highlighted what it meant for the 49ers to have Williams back after missing the last two games with a right ankle sprain. He was injured on Oct. 15 in a 19-17 loss to Cleveland but missed only two snaps before returning to battle Cleveland’s Myles Garrett, a front-runner for this season’s NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
But it goes back further than that, with Williams at 35 fighting a running battle with a chronic condition that could flare up at any time and will likely need maintenance all season. Williams missed three games last season with a high right ankle sprain and injured it in 2021 as well.
TRENT WILLIAMS: “It’s kinda weird because 31 turned around and ran. I ain’t never seen that.” pic.twitter.com/13A1bQKlPc
— KNBR (@KNBR) November 12, 2023
The good news is Williams sounded as if he’d be good to go for the 49ers (6-3) Week 11 game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-5) at Levi’s Stadium.
“I don’t think I took a step back,” Williams said. “I definitely didn’t get any better. I think I was 75, 80 percent, and I think I’m still around there.”
Williams played 46 snaps of 62, coming out with the 49ers in control of the game. After flying cross-country in a cold compression sleeve to prevent swelling, Williams determined at some point Saturday he’d give it a shot. He was officially listed as “questionable,” with head coach Kyle Shanahan amending it to “real” questionable.
“Over the years, every time I’ve been questionable I pretty much end up playing,” Williams said. “Thursday and Friday went OK, but didn’t go as well as expected. So it was truly questionable. Long flight. Got some good rehab Saturday, decided to give it a go.”
Suddenly a running game that averaged 95.3 yards over the last three games broke loose for 144 yards. Quarterback Brock Purdy had more time to throw.
Usually the standard for an offensive lineman is silence. If nobody hears his name and number it’s a positive, and that’s what mostly happened for Jaylon Moore, who stepped in for Williams. But Williams draws plenty of attention and rave reviews for his ability to get out in space with rare athleticism for someone who is 6-foot-5 and 305 pounds.
“He just manhandles anybody that he goes against, and it’s very fun to play with someone that’s probably the best to ever do it at his position,” 49ers tight end George Kittle said.
In the days preceding the game, Jaguars analyst and Hall of Fame offensive tackle Tony Boselli agreed.
“He’d get my vote,” Boselli told KNBR. “He reminds me of the way the game was played when the rules were different. In a league where everything is horizontal and not as physical, Trent comes downhill, tries to finish guys. He has a nastiness about him. I’ll be watching tape and I’m supposed to watch the entire team, but there will be 10 plays in a row and I realize I have no idea what’s happening because I’ve been watching Trent Williams the whole time.”
Shanahan breathed a sigh of relief because Williams got through it without reinjury.
“He was adamant he was going to play, whatever the percentage was,” Shanahan said. “We talked about it a lot. We were going to keep a hard eye on him as it went, but I thought he played well under the circumstances. He didn’t zing it, got out healthy, had no setbacks.”
Williams said he told Shanahan he’d be good to go if he were 70 to 75 percent.
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“It was tough because I hadn’t had any physical contact since Cleveland, so I’ve been on the shelf for the last month,” Williams said. “I knew I’d be rusty and obviously you can’t just wake up after a month and go out there and pick up where you left off.”
The way Williams sees it, he doesn’t need to be delivering pancake blocks when running interference for Christian McCaffrey, who had 95 yards on 16 carries, or Deebo Samuel, who had a 19-yard sweep for a touchdown with No. 71 leading the way on the play where Williams determined discretion to be the better part of valor.
“I feel so comfortable with (Nos.) 23 or 19 out there in the open field,” Williams said. “I’ve just got to get in the way for them to make a decision. Once 19 gets a head of team it’s really tough to bring him down.”