SANTA CLARA -- Ji'Ayir Brown closed out the 49ers' victory over the Buccaneers.
Talanoa Hufanga left the game in the third quarter with a knee injury, and suddenly the 49ers let the Bucs back in the game, until Brown put them away. In the fourth quarter alone, he recorded three tackles, three pass breakups (one in the end zone) and an interception (also in the end zone). He saved the day. So the 49ers gave him the game ball.
Here's what Brown said in the locker room after the game, courtesy of the 49ers' P.R. department.
Q: Could you see that you were getting better even though you weren't playing?
BROWN: "Yes. Every day I was getting better because I wanted to get better. I was still meeting with the coach even though I wasn't playing. I'll be meeting with the coach tomorrow. I'm always trying to pick brains. The more brains I can pick, the smarter I can get."
Q: Where do you think you've improved the most since training camp?
BROWN: "Play recognition. Seeing how NFL teams attack certain coverages. Being able to help those weak spots in the coverages and know exactly how quarterbacks are going to attack those types of coverages."
Q: Where will you put that game ball?
BROWN: "In a case somewhere in the house. For my kids somewhere down the line. This is the first one."
Q: Have teammates been reminding you that your time is coming?
BROWN: "Every day they tell me to stay ready. It didn't happen right away, but I trust in God, and I always knew one day it was going to happen."
Q: So, there's obviously three big plays to talk about. The one I'll ask about is the fourth down. You had just seen an injury to CB Charvarious Ward, so you had to cover WR Mike Evans because he blitzed CB Isaiah Oliver. That's a lot of responsibility on that play. What was going through your mind and what was your assignment on that play?
BROWN: "We sent a blitz. I had to pick up Mike. I knew it was a fourth down and a big play. Mike ran a flat and then turned it up into a wheel. I was just executing my job, staying inside out on him, playing with my eyes, and seeing that [QB] Baker [Mayfield] threw it up. I had to locate the ball, see how high it was, and just wanted to play through the hands of Mike. He’s one of the best receivers in the league when it comes to the jump ball. I had to see how high it was and just play through the hands of Mike and execute my job."
Q: To get your first interception, to contribute on this team, the first time you’re truly asked to because of an injury. What’s that feel like, as a rookie, to be able to do that?
BROWN: "Someone just said over there and it’s the same way I feel, the biggest thing you can ask for is for a young guy to be ready. Every week, I’ve been preparing for that day. I never knew when that day was going to come, but I was just preparing consistently every day. We were working hard, meeting for extra time with the coach. And, when my number was called today, I was fortunate enough to go out there and execute the job."
Q: How much did both S Tashaun Gipson Jr. and S Talanoa Hufanga help you get ready for this moment?
BROWN: "Every step of the way. I’ve been here since day one with those guys, just watching them, watching how they prepare, watching how they watch film. The DB Coach [Daniel Bullocks], he’s a hell of a guy. All of them, the whole secondary, they’ve just been great role models, great leaders for me, helping me through this transition to the NFL. I’m glad I could go out there and help them today."
Q: How much fun are you guys having out there? I know it’s a crazy game, but you guys are causing chaos out there. Are you able to enjoy the moment?
BROWN: "Always. Especially me, I’m always enjoying it. Out there with [DL] Nick Bosa, [LB] Fred Warner, [DL] Chase Young, all these great guys. How can you not enjoy it? You’re living the dream. I’m literally walking in my dream. So I’m enjoying every moment, every little detail. It’s just been amazing for me."