The 49ers’ fears came true Monday morning, as an MRI examination confirmed All-Pro safety Talanoa Hufanga sustained a torn ACL 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 sustained the injury on a non-contact play when his right knee buckled as he attempted to tackle Tampa Bay running back Rachaad White in the third quarter of the 49ers’ 27-14 victory on Sunday in Santa Clara.
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The initial tests indicated Hufanga sustained the devastating injury. He was taken from the 49ers’ sideline to the locker room on a cart.
Family members met Hufanga in the 49ers’ locker room, and he left Levi's Stadium after the game on crutches with a large brace on his leg.
“That is sickening news,” 49ers linebacker Fred Warner said Sunday evening after the team’s medical staff determined Hufanga most likely sustained the tear to his ACL.
The return from an ACL injury typically takes approximately nine months, if there are no setbacks along the way. Hufanga has a chance to be ready for the start of the 2024 season.
San Francisco 49ers
"He'll need a plan for training camp, but with the time and everything, if everything goes smoothly, 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 moved into a starting role. Hufanga was named to the NFC Pro Bowl team as well as first-team All-Pro after registering 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 from Penn State, took over in Hufanga’s absence and ended up making a couple 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 in coverage against four-time Pro Bowl receiver Mike Evans with 6:39 remaining.
Then, Brown made his first NFL interception with a diving grab in the end zone of a pass that was tipped by 49ers linebacker Dre Greenlaw with 3:38 left in the game.
“Him stepping in when Huf went down and getting that huge pick to seal the game, I know that 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 at the Seattle Seahawks.