49ers defenders Bowman, Williams return to Seattle at last

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) Ian Williams passed NaVorro Bowman in the locker room earlier this week and reminded his teammate they would be returning to Seattle's home field and the scene of major injuries from the 2013 season that temporarily derailed their careers.

''I was like, `We're back, we're live up there, we're back,''' Williams said of finally being able to play again at CenturyLink Field after their respective, grueling rehabilitations. ''He just smiled at me. It's our first time back up there. It's going to be exciting I think for both of us.''

Bowman hasn't played in Seattle since a frightening and devastating left knee injury during the NFC championship game in January 2014. He later had surgery.

For Williams, it was earlier that season. He began 2013 as starting nose tackle, then sustained a season-ending lower leg injury in a 2013 Week 2 loss on a cut block by Seattle right guard J.R. Sweezy. Williams underwent four surgeries near the ankle- having screws and plates put in and then removed - and began the next training camp on the physically unable to perform list following an offseason setback.

They're both healthy now.

Bowman, who leads the NFC with 88 tackles in his impressive comeback season, had hoped to return last year but wound up sitting out all of 2014 as his knee slowly recovered.

''It'll be real humbling for me understanding the last time I was there,'' Bowman said. ''I'll never forget the exact spot that it happened. I've been thinking about that for the past couple weeks. It will be very humbling for me just to approach it again and be able to just play on that field again and have a good game.''

He suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament and medial collateral ligament in his left knee that January day, later undergoing surgery for the ACL tear.

''The one thing that he regretted is he didn't hold onto the ball, that doesn't surprise me as the answer he would give,'' defensive coordinator Eric Mangini said Thursday.

Bowman emerged as a Defensive Player of the Year candidate in 2013. That December, his three sacks, two interceptions, one returned for a touchdown, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery were unmatched by any other player all season. He finished 2013 with 145 tackles, five sacks, two interceptions and four forced fumbles.

While he might not have the first-step burst he used to before the knee injury, Bowman is back as a dominant force for a defense trying to regain its status as a top unit in the league.

Bowman routinely sits out Wednesday practices to stay fresh, though he does get regular rehab work on the knee that day.

''I think I have a grasp of what I need to do to get my knee game-ready,'' he said. ''I don't think I'm 100 percent yet, and I don't feel that yet, but I do feel great, I feel the knee progressing every single week.''

Williams has recalled in the past his ankle dangling from his leg after the injury, then he broke his fibula in Week 10 at New Orleans last November.

''I'm pretty excited to get back up there and actually play,'' said Williams, who ended last season on injured reserve for the second straight year. ''I look at it as more of another game than a revenge game. We're worried about winning instead of any personal vendettas.''

The 49ers (3-6) believe if they can string a few victories together they can get themselves right back in the playoff chase in a jam-packed division featuring Seattle and St. Louis with 4-5 records behind first-place Arizona (7-2).

San Francisco has lost four straight to the Seahawks dating to that 23-17 loss in the NFC title game against the eventual Super Bowl champions.

A 49ers quarterback change from Colin Kaepernick to Blaine Gabbert is the biggest change as the teams prepare to meet exactly one month after Seattle's 20-3 victory on a Thursday night at Levi's Stadium.

''Especially if our offense goes out there and makes some plays and kind of silences them a little bit, that will give us even more just to be able to shut that crowd up,'' Williams said.

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

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