The 49ers’ fears came true Monday morning, when an MRI confirmed that All-Pro safety Talanoa Hufanga suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.
Hufanga will undergo season-ending surgery to repair the torn ligament, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said on a conference call with Bay Area reporters.
Hufanga suffered the injury on a non-contact play when his right knee buckled while trying to tackle Tampa Bay running back Rachaad White in the third quarter of the 49ers’ 27-14 victory Sunday in Santa Clara.
Initial tests indicated that Hufanga suffered a devastating injury. He was carried from the 49ers bench to the locker room on a cart.
Family members met with Hufanga in the 49ers locker room and he left Levi’s Stadium after the game on crutches and a large leg brace.
“That’s disgusting news,” 49ers linebacker Fred Warner said Sunday night after the team’s medical staff determined Hufanga likely suffered the torn ACL.
Recovery from an ACL injury typically takes approximately nine months, if there are no setbacks along the way. Hufanga has the possibility of being ready for the start of the 2024 season.
“He’ll need a plan for training camp, but with time and everything, if everything goes well, he should be ready for Week 1,” Shanahan said Monday.
Hufanga, 23, is a three-year NFL player whom the 49ers selected in the fifth round of the 2021 NFL Draft out of USC.
He experienced a breakout season a year ago when he took over the starting role. Hufanga was named to the NFC Pro Bowl team and first-team All-Pro after recording 97 tackles, four interceptions and one touchdown.
He is tied for the team lead this season with three interceptions.
Rookie Ji’Ayir Brown, a third-round pick out of Penn State, took over in Hufanga’s absence and ended up making a pair of plays late in the fourth quarter to help preserve the 49ers’ victory over the Buccaneers.
Brown broke up Baker Mayfield’s fourth-down pass in the end zone while covering against four-time Pro Bowl receiver Mike Evans with 6:39 remaining.
Brown then made his first NFL interception with a diving grab in the end zone of a pass that was deflected by 49ers linebacker Dre Greenlaw with 3:38 left in the game.
“For him to step in when Huf went down and get that big pick to seal the game, I know it felt good for him,” 49ers defensive lineman Arik Armstead said. “It was a timely play to end 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 against the Seattle Seahawks.
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