Programming note: Vikings-49ers coverage starts tonight at 6pm with 49ers Pregame Live on CSN Bay Area.
SANTA CLARA -- NaVorro Bowman got in touch with Adrian Peterson a lot during the only time they have met on the field in their NFL careers.
And Peterson reached out to Bowman last year while the 49ers’ three-time All-Pro linebacker was rehabbing from a severe knee injury.
When the 49ers and Minnesota Vikings take the field for the final NFL game of Week 1, there is little question Bowman and Peterson will again have numerous face-to-face encounters as the focal points of their respective units.
Bowman will play in a meaningful game for the first time since he sustained the grisly left knee injury in the NFC Championship game of 2014. And Peterson, a six-time Pro Bowl running back, is back in action after spending the final 15 games of last season on the commissioner’s exempt list while facing child-abuse charges.
“He hasn’t played in a while, either, so I’m sure he’ll be jacked up to get out there and run the ball hard,” Bowman said. “He’s a great back. I’m excited about the matchup. When you say I’ve been sitting out for a while, this is a back that you want to face just to see if you’re back at the level I was at.”
Bowman was certainly playing at his established level in 2012 in a game the Vikings won 24-13. Bowman was credited with 18 tackles on a day in which Peterson rushed for 86 yards on 25 carries. On the 11 plays in which Bowman was credited with tackles of Peterson, he gained just 37 yards.
Bowman knows as well as anyone that it will be an all-night chore to contain Peterson, who did not see any action during the exhibition season.
“He has a motor. He’s a hard runner,” Bowman said. “You can tell he’s trying to get every single yard there is to get out there. That’s one of the things that we love as fans, just to see a running back giving it his all every single play, and that’s what he does.”
Bowman saw action in two games during the exhibition season. He played three snaps against the Dallas Cowboys and was credited with three tackles, including two stops behind the line of scrimmage. A week later, Bowman recorded two sacks of Peyton Manning while playing every 49ers defensive snap in the first half against the Denver Broncos.
Bowman said he used that time in training camp and the preseason to clear every mental and physical hurdle before Monday’s beginning of the regular season. Bowman brings more than just a proven presence to the playing field. He returns to the 49ers at a time in which some of the team’s big-name players, including Patrick Willis, are no longer around.
“I got the kinks out in preseason,” he said. “I’m just excited to lead this team. Us being so young, we have a lot to prove.”
In many ways, Bowman has looked to Peterson as inspiration. Peterson sustained a torn ACL in 2011. The following year, Peterson had his best season, rushing for 2,097 yards. Peterson said he reached out to Bowman and the two spoke several times as Bowman was going through the grind of his rehabilitation last year.
“Just watching him, the preseason, it doesn’t look like he’s coming off an ACL injury,” Peterson said. “With that, I have so much respect for him because I know how hard it is to get up every morning and push yourself to get back to 100 percent. The way he’s playing is just testimony of the hard work he put in. And it’s showing. So I’m happy for him.”
Bowman also caught the eye of Vikings coach Mike Zimmer as his team’s offense game-planned for the 49ers.
“I thought he played very well. He’s a great player,” Zimmer said. “To go in there and have time off and do the things that he did, coming back from an injury. We’re kind of hoping Adrian does the same thing when he comes back. I think he’s a guy you have to pay special attention to on their defense because he does a lot of really great things for them.”
Bowman and Peterson have so much in common as they return after missing last season for entirely different reasons. Both players are being counted upon heavily, beginning in their head-to-head meeting Monday night.
“Off the field, we’re co-workers, we’re friends,” Bowman said. “We try to talk about the game. But when we’re competing against each other, we have to do our jobs. Off the field, he’s a great guy. I enjoy watching him when he’s not playing against us. But Monday I have to defend him.”