Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Mother of 49ers cornerback Dontae Johnson passes away before game vs. Bengals

Dec 12, 2021 at 5:47 PM--

49ers cornerback Dontae Johnson suffered a personal tragedy before Sunday's game against the Cincinnati Bengals when his mother passed away following a heart attack.

Johnson was originally expected to start at cornerback against the Bengals after starter Emmanuel Moseley injured his ankle in a loss to the Seattle Seahawks last week. But he was declared out due to personal issues on Friday, then he revealed the news about his mother to his teammates after their 26-23 overtime win over the Bengals on Sunday.

"I just talked to him before I came in here, but his mom had a heart attack on Friday and he lost her this morning," 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan told reporters after the win. "Her name's Holli Garner. So I know it was a real emotional day for Dontae. The team found out after the game."

The 49ers were celebrating their win over the Bengals when Johnson's news changed the mood.

"Stuff like that happens, it always kind of messes up the vibe," safety Jimmie Ward said. "I don't even have too many words to say about that. I can't even imagine me going through that. It's tough."

Rookie cornerback Ambry Thomas was given his first NFL start in Johnson's place.

"I'm just happy that Ambry came in, stepped it up," Shanahan said. "The guys played well around him. I was real happy that even though such a dark, tough day for Dontae that he was able to get out there and be with his mom when it happened. I'm happy that at least we had something positive to show him."

Johnson, 30, first joined the 49ers in 2014 as a fourth-round pick out of NC State. He stayed with the 49ers until 2017, then bounced around the league for a while before returning to the 49ers in 2019. He's been with the 49ers off and on ever since and has solidified himself as a well-liked and respected veteran. It remains to be seen when he'll be back with the team, but they'll be ready to embrace him when he returns.

"You just tell him how much you hurt for him," Shanahan said of his conversation with Johnson Sunday. "I just told him we're all dreading that day. I'm dreading that day eventually sometime. I'm fortunate it hasn't happened to me yet. It happened to Dontae today. There's no words for it to make it better. I just told him I was happy he was there and could be by her side when it happened and how good of a person he is and how many people here care about him. When he's ready and he's good, he's got a lot of people who care about him when he comes back."

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