It was Sept. 14, 2014, the second game of the season and Marshall was playing for the Chicago Bears. Ward, meanwhile, was two games into his rookie season after arriving as a first-round pick out of Northern Illinois.
Despite mostly sticky coverage from Ward, Marshall simply outmuscled him for three touchdowns in a 28-20 Chicago victory. Now, the 1-11 Niners and 3-9 Jets are preparing to meet Sunday at Levi's Stadium.
Ward remembers that game very well; Marshall offered an interesting explanation for why he doesn't.
"I watched it a lot," Ward said. "It was my welcome-to-the-NFL game. I’m just looking forward to going against Brandon Marshall for the second time in my career."
"It was a valuable lesson. I definitely learned from that two years ago."
Marshall, on the other hand, was coming off a high ankle sprain and doing everything he could to play in that game. After initially hesitating to explain why he couldn't recall the details, he decided to explain further in a conference call with Bay Area media on Wednesday.
“I’ll say it, I took a couple pain pills that masked the pain," Marshall said. "I really wasn’t supposed to play. I came back from a high ankle within 10 days. I was supposed to be out four to six weeks. I don’t remember much from that game. I just remember catching those balls. And that was pretty much it.”
But Ward clearly has enough memories for both players. At the time, Ward was working as a nickel corner and getting some looks at safety. Since, he's become one of the Niners' starting outside cornerbacks. In fact, coach Chip Kelly recently called Ward the team's best corner, and Ward received plaudits from Arizona receiver Larry Fitzgerald for how he competed in their matchup last month.
Ward pointed to a better understanding of the game and details such as using leverage better and funneling receivers to his help as ways he's improved his game since that first meeting.
"I feel like even the best corners right now in the league, whoever is the top corner, he is learning stuff right now too," Ward said. "So you can never stop learning anything at corner or any defensive position so I would still list myself as a DB, not just corner."
For the most part, the Niners haven't asked Ward or fellow starting cornerback Tramaine Brock to shadow opposing receivers this season, leaving Ward to work either as the boundary corner or in the slot in nickel packages. Ward hinted Wednesday, though, that there could be come opportunities for him to follow someone like Marshall in certain situations.
In looking back at that first meeting against Marshall, Ward remembers being close as Marshall hauled in that hat trick of touchdown passes but simply finding himself on the wrong end of Marshall's physical approach.
Which means this time around Ward knows he must be willing to mix it up, even if it means more yellow flags on the field.
"I feel like you have just got to want it more," Ward said. "He’ll be doing a little pushing, so going into this game, if he’s doing a little pushing, I’m going to do a little pushing. So I just feel like whoever wants it more, that’s who is going to come down with the ball.
"Pushing, shoving, there might be some flags. I don’t know, I don’t care. We’re out here playing football and it’s going to be a physical game and that’s what I’m going into it thinking."