Justin Smith has a partially torn left triceps, according to a source with knowledge of the injury. The 49ers defensive end, who was voted to his fourth straight Pro Bowl on Wednesday, injured his arm on Dec. 16 against the Patriots and has not practiced since. The source spoke about the injury on the condition of anonymity. Smith's injury has been listed as "elbow" on the 49ers' injury reports.
**update** A team spokesman said today a bone spur became detached when Smith's triceps tendon partially tore. The bone spur remains in his left elbow. That's why the injury has been characterized as an elbow injury.
Smith appears to have suffered the injury while pushing off a Patriots offensive lineman in the third quarter. The play was innocuous and similar in nature to the one that ended outside linebacker Parys Haralson's season. Haralson also suffered a torn triceps during a preseason game against the Denver Broncos and was placed on injured reserve.
A day after the Patriots game, Jim Harbaugh was asked if Smith's injury was like "a Parys Haralson thing where he's knocked out long-term?"
"No, seems to be two different things," Harbaugh said.
Smith tried to return in the fourth quarter of the game in New England but could not. The injury likely will require surgery in the offseason, but Smith and the 49ers are hoping he can tolerate the pain enough to be effective during the playoffs. The 49ers would earn a first-round bye with a win Sunday at home against Arizona coupled with a loss by the Packers in Minnesota.
Ricky Jean Francois filled in at right defensive end Sunday for the 49ers and led the team's defensive linemen with six tackles. Smith, however, is the anchor of the defense and its most veteran member, and he stood out with his stellar play in the playoffs last year. He works exceptionally well with NFC sack leader Aldon Smith, who has gone without a sack in the team's last two games.
- Matt Barrows