For him personally, he called it “very rewarding” to start all 16 regular-season games for just the second time in his career, and to make the transition to a new offense successfully as the longest-tenured lineman on the team.
Having gone through two ACL surgeries on his knees in his career, Bulaga credited the coaching staff’s health maintenance schedule for him with keeping him fresh for game days. He said his knees actually feel better than ever, and even when he exited the first San Francisco game in the first quarter with a knee injury, he still was able to suit up the following week.
He would have started all 18 games, including the postseason, if not for waking up the morning of the Seattle playoff game having caught the stomach virus that had infected the locker room. He tried to warm up for the game but had to take himself out.
The first-round draft pick from 2010, who remains the youngest player ever to start a Super Bowl, is now at 124 career starts (111 regular season, 13 postseason) and feels he’s still going strong. He didn’t offer where this season ranks for him in terms of his quality of play, but several teammates and coaches commented during the season they thought it was one of his best, if not the best, even in a new scheme.
The gauntlet of pass rushers Bulaga faced, particularly early in the season (Chicago’s Khalil Mack, Minnesota’s Danielle Hunter, Denver’s Von Miller, and so on) when the offense was trying to find its footing, was a huge challenge, and he met it with the same stoic confidence and businesslike preparation that has defined his career.
“I think a lot of people had questions about myself and (at) 30 years old, will I be able to do X, Y and Z?” he said. “Will I be able to play? It’s not really me proving anything to anybody, but it is good to go out there and play at a high level.
“It’s not always easy learning something brand new, and the expectation for guys that have been around here for a long time is to play really good football. That’s tough, and something I’ve been really happy about, and learned. Not that I didn’t think I could do it … but change happens, and how do you adapt to it and make the most of it.”
He remained a leader in the offensive line room, aided free agent Billy Turner‘s adjustment to being the new right guard next to him, and is held in high esteem by fellow bookend tackle David Bakhtiari and quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who have spoken often about their appreciation for both his play and his friendship.