The 49ers won't have Justin Smith today against the Seahawks. In fact, they won't have him next week in the finale against the Cardinals, either. This, according to a tweet from ESPN's Adam Schefter. who wrote that the team is hoping the veteran defensive end returns in time for the playoffs. Smith injured what the team says is his elbow in the third quarter a week ago and could not return to the game.
Smith did not practice all week. The 49ers ultimately listed him as "questionable" on their Friday injury report. A report sent out earlier in the day had Smith as "doubtful," which appears to be the more accurate designation.
Earlier in the week, Jim Harbaugh painted a much rosier picture of Smith's prognosis. On Tuesday, he was asked on KNBR whether Smith would practice this past week. "Well, you know his nickname is Cowboy," Harbaugh said. "Everybody affectionately refers to Justin Smith around here as the Cowboy. So, I expect we'll see the Cowboy. Knowing what I know of Justin Smith and the situation, yeah, I think the Cowboy's going to be saddled up. ... Ropin' and ridin'! ... If it's humanly possible, the Cowboy will be out there ropin' and ridin'."
Smith has made the Pro Bowl the last two seasons and he has started 185 consecutive games, the most at his position. His loss would be significant, especially against a team like Seattle that prefers to run the ball. Smith also plays next to, and has built a strong rapport with, linebacker Aldon Smith, whose 19 ½ sacks are tied for the NFL lead.
However, Justin Smith's replacement, Ricky Jean Francois, is one of the strongest players on the team and is especially good against the run. Jean Francois is playing in the final year of his contract and would benefit from a couple of games in the spotlight.
The situation is similar to the one last season when pro bowl linebacker Patrick Willis went down with a hamstring injury. Larry Grant stepped in, played well and forced a late-game fumble in Seattle on Christmas Eve that sealed the win for the 49ers.
- Matt Barrows