Linebacker Ray-Ray Armstrong had a rare opportunity to get his hands on the football in the season opener. And he did not let go.
In fact, Armstrong will not part ways with the ball until he ships it to his mother’s house at some point in the near future, he said. Armstrong did not start, but he played a major role in the 49ers’ season-opening 28-0 victory over the Los Angeles Rams on Monday night.
But Sunday against the Carolina Panthers is a new game. And with a new opponent, 49ers defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil could unveil different looks he believes will create favorable matchups for his unit.
“It’s one game,” Armstrong said. “I just try to go out there and execute the role coach is giving me. Game by game, it might be different. Whatever he gives me, I’m just trying to execute it.”
Gerald Hodges opened the game against the Rams as the starter, alongside NaVorro Bowman. But Armstrong ended up playing 42 snaps, compared to Hodges’ 19 plays.
Armstrong recorded four tackles and broke up two passes. As the 49ers preserved their first shutout in a season-opening game in franchise history, Armstrong came through with the big play to intercept Rams quarterback Case Keenum at the 49ers’ 18-yard line late in the third quarter with the 49ers holding a 14-0 lead.
“I just dropped in my zone,” Armstrong said. “There was only one player left in the zone and the quarterback saw NaVorro Bowman in the middle of the field and he didn’t see me, so he tried to throw the ball away from NaVorro, and I was breaking on the other side. That’s how I was able to make a play on the ball.
“It was very special for me because it was my first one. It was my first one on Monday night. It was a great moment, but now I’ll try to get more of those.”
It was the first interception in Armstrong’s 47-game NFL career after originally signing with the St. Louis Rams as an undrafted rookie from Miami in 2013. The 49ers claimed him off waivers in November after the Oakland Raiders released him.
He could have some opportunities on Sunday against Cam Newton, who is not bashful about throwing darts into tight coverage as he looks for tight end Greg Olsen over the middle.
“He has a strong arm,” Armstrong said. “I just have to read my keys and be where I’m supposed to be. And try to make a play on the ball.”