SANTA CLARA -- Linebacker NaVorro Bowman's case for NFL Defensive Player of the Year picked up steam Thursday when the NFC named him its Defensive Player of the Month for December.

Bowman registered 63 tackles in the 49ers' five December wins, along with three sacks, two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery and two interceptions, one of which he returned to clinch a win over the Falcons in Candlestick Park's likely farewell.

According to the NFL, Bowman is the only player in the past 20 years to total in a calendar month: 45-plus tackles, three sacks, two interceptions, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and an interception return for a touchdown.

Bowman has earned his second straight Pro Bowl invitation, having emerged out of the large shadow of fellow inside linebacker Patrick Willis, who's made his seventh Pro Bowl in as many seasons.

"We can count on each other to help each other out and back each other up," Willis said. "Sometimes I tell him, 'Hey, just go get it. I'm going to cover you.' And vice versa. Sometimes he'll tell me the same thing.

"We're always communicating. And that's one of the biggest things. It's never, like, 'Man, let me go do this because I can make the plays.' It's whatever formation they give us and what makes our defense better at that point in time is how we work. That's a good tandem."

Bowman is credited by the 49ers with a team-high 192 tackles, which is 49 more than the league's gamebooks tallied for him. The fourth-year veteran never previously won a NFC player of the month honor.

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