SANTA CLARA – Damontre Moore pressed a football to the top of his head as he bent at his waist, leaning against the bench on the 49ers sideline. He said a prayer of gratitude in the closing seconds of his return to the NFL, which he capped with a key forced fumble.
The 49ers were also thankful Moore was still there for them after 10 weeks of the NFL regular season.
“I was emotional,” Moore said after coming up with a big play to help preserve the 49ers’ victory Sunday over the Arizona Cardinals at Levi’s Stadium. “The one thing I realized on my journey, is I got to give thanks to God.
“I was so emotional because me and coach Kris Kocurek talked probably once a week or once every other week when I was gone. He believed in me. I just have to keep thanking him for this opportunity. I love that guy. I love him. I love my brothers. I love my teammates.”
A week earlier, Moore was spending his time, as he did every Sunday, with his 6-month-old son, Sekani Deruis, and wife Tiara at their home in Mansfield, Texas, a suburb of Dallas. He watched football, kept tabs on all his friends with the 49ers, and wondered if he would get another chance to play in the NFL.
On Tuesday morning, his phone finally rang.
He was on a flight to the Bay Area later that day to work out for the 49ers, who lost defensive end Ronald Blair to a season-ending knee injury in the team’s loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Monday night.
“The 49ers called and, ‘Hey, can you make this flight in two hours? You’re going to work out today, and we’ll see where it goes from there.’ It was a quick turn-around,” Moore said. “The next thing you know, on Wednesday, I’m in practice with full pads.
“This whole week has been a whirlwind. That’s why I’m so emotional. And Sunday, I’m contributing to a win. It doesn’t get any better than that. We got a win, and I actually made a couple of plays.”
Moore played 23 of the 49ers’ 69 defensive snaps, and none was bigger than his hustle play with 25 seconds remaining and the 49ers clinging to a 30-26 lead over Arizona.
Moore was rushing the passer from the left side of the defense. After Kyler Murray’s short pass completion to rookie receiver KeeSean Johnson, Moore turned and ran to the ball. Cornerback Emmanuel Moseley had Johnson wrapped up, and Moore delivered a hit to knock the ball loose. Teammate Jaquiski Tartt recovered the fumble to, in effect, clinch the victory.
“Honestly, I feel like I had to make that play because just as good of a game it was, I also had a lot of mistakes,” Moore said. “I feel like I owed it to this team. They took a risk in bringing me in, and trusting me.”
Moore, 27, broke into the NFL in 2013 as a third-round draft pick of the New York Giants. He also played for Miami, Seattle, Dallas and the Raiders in his career. After suiting up for the San Diego Fleet of the Alliance of American Football this spring, Moore signed with the 49ers to join their 90-man offseason roster.
Moore made a strong bid to win a roster spot at the end of training camp. And the 49ers were surprised Moore did not end up on another team before they dialed his number following Blair’s injury.
“He was the 54th guy on our roster after camp, so he earned it,” 49ers rookie defensive end Nick Bosa said. “He deserved to be here, but it’s a numbers game. And he wasn’t here for half the year, so he’s just trying to make up for the time off.”
The 49ers might need more from him after 49ers defensive end Dee Ford exited Sunday’s game with a right hamstring injury. Ford could miss some time, which would provide Moore with additional opportunities. He said he stepped right back into the 49ers’ locker room and felt as if he had never left.
“With coach Kocurek and all the guys embracing me, you would’ve thought I never got cut the way everybody treated me,” Moore said. “It’s really emotional.”