Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Bowman makes instant impact in return

49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman was back in action for the first time since his knee injury Sunday.

SANTA CLARA, Calif. - It didn't take NaVorro Bowman long to get back into the swing of things Sunday.

Getting his first game action in 19 months against the Cowboys in the 49ers' second preseason game, Bowman notched three tackles, including two for loss, before coming out of the game after three plays.

A 1-to-1 tackle-to-play ratio isn't bad. "I thought he responded great," head coach Jim Tomsula said.

And after taking down Dallas running back Lance Dunbar for a loss on third-down, Bowman let out 19 months of emotion, rallying the fans in the  south-west corner of Levi's Stadium, signalling something along the lines of, 'I'm back.'

"It was huge, just I could feel the meter just rising, making those plays, back to back," Bowman said. "I knew I was coming out, so I just wanted to celebrate with the fans for a little bit."

Tomsula said Bowman would play no more than five snaps in Sunday's 23-6 win. If Dallas' series had lasted longer, Tomsula would have called a timeout to get his linebacker off the field.

Bowman elected to sit out the preseason opener against Houston while the 49ers exhibit caution with the return of their star linebacker.

"I’ll reserve the right to look in a guy’s eyes two hours before a game," head coach Jim Tomsula said Friday.

Bowman's eyes said he was ready to play football, apparently.

"I think he saw that it’s been a long road for me. And he knew that I wasn’t going to want to come out of the game, so he threatened me a little bit," Bowman said. "I didn’t want to have to waste a timeout, so I wanted to make the most of my opportunity. I could save the timeout too. I just think he saw the long road that I’ve been down, that I’ve put the work in and it was just time for me to go out there and play."

After the Cowboys won the toss and elected to receive, Bowman on the first play plugged the hole on running back Darren McFadden, stopping him for a 1-yard gain. On second down, Bowman and Nick Moody combined to stop McFadden for a 1-yard loss. Then Bowman prevented Dunbar from escaping with a shoe-string tackle on a third-down pass, his last play of the night.

"I was just baiting Tony, make him think I was blitzing the A-gap, thinking he had the running back free out there on the edge," said Bowman. "I got him to throw the ball, and I made the play."

After missing all of last season recovering from tearing his ACL and MCL in January 2014's conference title game in Seattle, Bowman said he spent his time off becoming a student of the game.

"Last year, I had a whole year to sit back and see it from the coaches view," he said. "you always try to better yourself. That’s what the greats do. They find ways to learn, different ways, not just as a player. That’s what the year off gave me."

Bowman played with the brace on the left knee, which he said prohibits him from playing as fast and as freely without it. He had gone without the brace during padded sessions throughout the week of practice.

"I felt better without, to be honest. To be safe, you want to wear it. We made a few adjustments to it to allow my leg to move a little better. Just to make those guys happy, the trainers and me, at the same time," Bowman said.

Bowman was replaced by second-year linebacker Shayne Skov. The 49ers forced three straight punts from Dallas' offense to start the game. Starting quarterback Tony Romo left the game after that first drive.

The defense didn't allow points until 4:11 in the fourth quarter, picking off three Cowboys' passes. Nose tackle Mike Purcell returned one 37 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter. Safety Craig Dahl and cornerback Dontae Johnson had the others. 

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