Barber: Nick Bosa rattles Mayfield in 49ers’ 31-3 win
After the game, he admitted he had practiced his elaborate pantomime.
“I kinda did,” Nick Bosa said in the locker room, after his 49ers had thrashed the Cleveland Browns 31-3 at Levi’s Stadium. “I was thinking, like, do I need to practice it? Is it gonna look bad? But yeah, I practiced a little bit in my room.”
If Bosa should sack Baker Mayfield, the Cleveland quarterback, he had visualized what would happen next. He would reenact Mayfield’s brash and controversial post-game celebration from September of 2017. Mayfield played for the University of Oklahoma then, Bosa for Ohio State. After the Sooners won at Columbus, Ohio, in a statement game, Mayfield ran to midfield, waved a giant OU flag and planted it right in the middle of the capital “O.” It was an act that dripped with disrespect.
Bosa, apparently, stewed on this incident for more than two years.
“Just wanted to get payback,” he said Monday night. “He had it coming.”
During the 49ers’ bye, as the team prepared for an important showdown with the Browns, Bosa talked to a former college teammate, Sam Hubbard, now a Bengals defensive end. “I told him I was gonna do it, and he said, ‘Hey, I was gonna do it when we play them.’ ”
But Bosa got there first. And he didn’t even need an official sack to launch the routine. On the final play of the first half, Bosa circled around the outside shoulder of Cleveland left tackle Greg Robinson and put Mayfield in an ankle trap. The quarterback unloaded the ball in desperation, to no one in particular, and was flagged for intentional grounding.
That was all Bosa needed. He ran in the direction of the north end zone, waved a huge invisible flag and planted it in the Levi’s turf, a roast two years in the making. He had Mayfield’s taunt so perfectly choreographed that when someone posted the two celebrations side-by-side online, they were practically in lockstep.
“I mean, the image was in my head pretty good, so I kind of had a good idea,” Bosa said.
The rookie has been pretty circumspect since he arrived in Santa Clara. He doesn’t seem like a loud person to begin with, and a lot of NFL players take some time to find their voice in the locker room. And Bosa has good reason to be careful with his words. He got to the NFL with a well-documented reputation as a Trump supporter, a tricky position for an athlete who (a) plays in the Bay Area and (b) makes his money in a sport dominated by African-American men.
But something about this game, and about Mayfield, loosened Bosa’s inhibitions. He wasn’t just happy after the blowout win. The man was salty as Dutch licorice.
Was he talking to Mayfield during the game? Bosa: “I don’t usually talk. But this game, he had it coming. But he didn’t say one word back.”
What was he saying to Mayfield? Bosa: “I don’t know. I was just screaming his name, like, ‘Baakerr. Baakerr. You good? Come on, pick it up. We want a challenge.’ And he was just looking at me like…”
And here Bosa lowered his head and made the face of a little kid who had been rebuked for trying to grab an extra Tootsie Roll.
Did Mayfield — who, by the way, stands a relatively modest 6 foot, 1 inch — seem rattled during game? Bosa: “Yeah. I mean, I don’t know how anybody thought he’d be able to see over Arik (Armstead) and Buck (DeForest Buckner). But he was panicking. He was double clutching, rolling back and forth. We had him rattled all game.”