The 49ers' worst fears came true Monday, when coach Kyle Shanahan announced that center Weston Richburg will miss the remainder of the season with a torn patellar tendon.
Richburg was carted off the field Sunday in New Orleans during the third quarter of the 49ers' 48-46 win over the Saints. Richburg's right leg got caught on guard Mike Person's left leg. That caused the center's leg to awkwardly bend as he went to the ground.
Backup Ben Garland will step in immediately as the starter in Richburg's place. Person and Daniel Brunskill also have experience playing center.
Shanahan and the coaching staff already have dealt with multiple injuries to the offensive line when tackles Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey missed time. While Garland has big shoes to fill taking over for Richburg, Shanahan was impressed with what he saw from the back up in New Orleans.
"He did a hell of a job when he came in," Shanahan said. "Replacing Richburg is a huge job. He's played very well for us this year and Ben came in and we were able to not miss a beat. He stepped it up, knew the gameplan well. Blocked those guys even when they were the head up nose. When he was uncovered he got through to the second level. He had a number of plays in the game that helped us."
Richburg was one of the 49ers' biggest free-agent signings of the 2018 offseason when they gave him a five-year, $47.5 million contract. He had a challenging first season, though, as he played through a quadriceps injury he sustained in Week 4.
Richburg had surgery to reattach the tendon to his kneecap as soon as the season was over in January, and since his return, he has played his best football since joining the 49ers. The six-year pro has been a lead blocker on several explosive plays this season, including on wide receiver Richie James' 57-yard catch-and-run against the Cardinals in Week 11.
Shanahan believes that it will be another challenging rehab for Richburg during the offseason, but added that it definitely is an injury that a player can come back from. His leadership on the offensive line will be missed, as well as what he has brought to the game since his return.
"I thought Richburg played really well," Shanahan said. "He played like the guy that we hoped for when he got here. And I think he did that last year in some games but not consistently throughout the year -- but his injury had a lot to do with that. I know it was a hard offseason for him.
"He didn't get cleared until the Tampa Bay game, so there was a lot of anxiety with him going through that, whether to do it or not and I really think it paid off because it helped him a ton this year. He was able to stay healthy throughout the year until this point ... happened on a different leg, so it was very unfortunate what happened.
"We were very appreciative of him this year."