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SANTA CLARA -- Ray McDonald received news early in the week that he would not face criminal charges after being the subject of a two-month investigation for domestic violence.
Then, the 49ers’ defensive end went out against the New York Giants and had his best game of the season with six solo tackles, his first quarterback sack and a forced fumble in a defense-driven 16-10 victory on the road.
“It had a bit to do with it,” McDonald told CSNBayArea.com. “I’ve been focused this whole year, but I was a little more focused than normal because of the news I got. It was a big relief, a big weight off my shoulders, knowing I don’t have to worry about anything off the field. I could just focus on football.”
Until last week, McDonald was in the news exclusively as it related to the off-the-field incident that involved his pregnant fiancée at his birthday party at their San Jose home.
In explaining its decision to not charge McDonald with a crime, the Santa Clara Count District Attorney’s office cited “conflicting versions of the incident, a lack of verifiable eyewitnesses, and a significant lack of cooperation” from McDonald’s fiancée.
Through it all, McDonald said the football field served as an escape for him.
“Hearing all the negativity surrounding my name, being off the field was too much at times,” he said. “I’m a strong-willed, strong-minded person. I was able to get through it. Being on the football field helped me out tremendously, knowing that I have a place I could go and take my mind off all the outside (stuff).”
Now, McDonald’s sole focus is on continued contributions toward the 49ers’ defense holding up its end of the bargain to finish the regular season strong and earn a fourth consecutive trip to the playoffs.
The 49ers’ defense is ranked fourth in the NFL in total yards allowed despite the absences of several key players -- including Aldon Smith, NaVorro Bowman, Patrick Willis and Tramaine Brock -- for a large part of the season.
McDonald credited defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and his staff, including defensive line coach Jim Tomsula, for supplying useful information on the tendencies of opponents. The 49ers have gotten strong contributions from the players who moved up the depth chart to fill needs.
Michael Wilhoite and Chris Borland have stepped into the lineup to help compensate for the losses of the 49ers’ two All-Pro inside linebackers.
“They’re doing a great job,” McDonald said. "It’s really hard to replace NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis, but Chris Borland and Wilhoite are doing a great job. Borland is making plays unlike any I’ve ever seen by a rookie. Those guys have stepped up and they really helped our defense be one of the tops in the league.
“You can never forget those guys, and what they’ve done for our team and our defense. They’ll be back next year. But the show must go on. You got guys who can step in and do a good job. It’s good for the team. It’s good for the defense.”
McDonald, in his eighth NFL season, and he said he believes he is playing at the highest level of his career because of the example he sees daily from Justin Smith. McDonald trains daily with Smith in the offseason.
“Being 30, I know a lot of people think I’m old,” McDonald said. “But I think that’s just a cliché for people to say, ‘You’re 30, you’re old.’
“I just feel if you keep training and working out, age means nothing. Justin Smith can attest to that.”