SANTA CLARA -- Tashaun Gipson Sr. started his season back home in Dallas with his family not knowing whether his NFL career had come to an end.
Then 15 days after getting the rare chance to celebrate a birthday at home instead of at training camp, the San Francisco 49ers called and Gipson had a job again less than three weeks before the start of the season.
It proved to be a fortunate development for both sides with the 32-year-old Gipson delivering one of his most productive seasons in years as a key part of the NFL's stingiest defense headed into the postseason.
"I'd be lying to you if I said I didn't lose a little faith sitting at training camp," Gipson said. "Going into preseason, there I was at home with my kids. It was my first time spending my birthday at home, and I didn't envision being at home on my birthday in August. So to be here now, man, it's just glory to God because I came into the right situation at the right time."
Despite the late arrival in August, Gipson stepped right in as a starter in Week 1 in place of the injured Jimmie Ward and never relinquished the spot.
When Ward returned in October, he moved into the slot because Gipson was playing so well at deep safety that San Francisco didn't want to make a change.
Coach Kyle Shanahan knew Gipson well, having been an assistant in Cleveland when Gipson made the Pro Bowl in 2014 and having gone against him more recently.
"I thought we were very fortunate that he was available when he was and he's come in here and I feel like kind of the wisdom of our defense," Shanahan said. "I mess around with him, I call him dad sometimes, but he's been so consistent. Always putting the backstop on our defense. He's got great ball skills, he always has."
Those ball skills have been on display of late and could prove key again when San Francisco (13-4) opens the playoffs at home in the wild-card round on Saturday against Seattle (9-8).
Gipson had an interception in overtime that set up the game-winning field goal in a Week 17 win at Las Vegas and then two more in the finale against Arizona when the Niners clinched the No. 2 seed in the NFC.
"You see how good of a ball hawk he is," Ward said. "He's a great safety and he fits with his defense. ... He's a playmaker back there and that's what we need."
Gipson finished the season with a team-high five interceptions — the most by a 49ers player since Perrish Cox also had five in 2014.
Gipson has 32 interceptions in his 11-year career that has included stops in Cleveland, Jacksonville, Houston and Chicago before landing in San Francisco.
"It's the most fun year of my career and I can truly say that," he said. "I've been on some teams where we had a little success, man, but this truly is the most fun year of my career. Why stop now? We have so much more football left to play. Perfect storybook ending for everybody if we can continue to keep this going."
NOTES: The only players on the Niners active roster who didn't practice Tuesday were DE Nick Bosa (rest), QB Jimmy Garoppolo (foot) and backup CB Ambry Thomas (ankle). ... G Aaron Banks (ankle, knee), LB Dre Greenlaw (back), DT Arik Armstead (foot, ankle), DT Javon Kinlaw (knee), RB Christian McCaffrey (knee) and LB Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles (neck) were all limited. ... DL Kevin Givens (knee) was a full participant and is expected to play this week for the first time since getting hurt in Week 14. ... The Niners will not activate rookie DT Kalia Davis after he practiced for three weeks in his return from an ACL injury in college. Davis is expected to be fully recovered for the offseason program.
for more features.