SANTA CLARA -- Antoine Bethea will start Sunday in the 49ers’ season opener, extending his NFL-best active streak among safeties to 97 games.
Bethea confirmed on Tuesday he has cleared the NFL protocol after sustaining a concussion in an exhibition game Sunday, Aug. 17, against the Denver Broncos.
Bethea will switch to his familiar No. 41 for the regular season, which the 49ers open Sunday against Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys in Arlington, Texas. Assigned No. 24 in the offseason after signing a free-agent contract with the 49ers, Bethea scooped up the jersey number he wore during his eight seasons with the Indianapolis Colts when Bubba Ventrone was among the 49ers’ final cuts.
Bethea figures to have his number called a lot on Sunday. There figures to be a lot of pressure on the 49ers’ secondary from the opening snap of the game.
“Tony Romo, he has some good weapons: Jason Witten and Dez Bryant,” Bethea said. “There’s no question what they want to do. Tony Romo is a very good quarterback. On the defensive side of the ball, we have to go out and make plays.”
Bethea has the most experience of anyone in that 49ers secondary, but he said he will rely on second-year safety Eric Reid as much as Reid is likely to lean on the veteran.
“It’s his second year in the defense, so he knows a little of the ins and outs,” Bethea said of Reid. “We’re going to rely on each other. There’s never going to be a point where I make this specific call or he makes this specific call. We’re a unit and we’re going to go out and feed off each other.”
Star pass-rusher Aldon Smith begins serving a nine-game suspension. All-Pro inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman is out for at least six games, as he opens the season on physically unable to perform. The status of defensive end Ray McDonald, arrested early Sunday morning in San Jose on felony domestic violence charges, remains uncertain.
Does that complicate matters for the 49ers’ defense?
“If I said no, I’d be lying to you,” Bethea said. “But at the end of the day, we still got a game to play. Dallas, they’re is not worried about what we have going on here. The next guy in, whoever it is, has to step in and play well. Regardless of whether we’re talking about injuries or whatever. And that’s what we’ll do.”