For the last six quarters, the 49ers have missed defensive end Justin Smith. Badly -- they've given up 73 points over that span since Smith left during the third quarter of San Francisco's game against the Patriots in Week 15.
That makes the report from Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee on Thursday that Smith has a partially-torn torn triceps muscle that much more terrifying.
Smith hasn't practiced since suffering the injury on Dec. 16 and Barrows reports that Smith will need surgery this offseason.
San Francisco plays the Cardinals in Week 17; if they win, they lock up at least the No. 3 seed in the NFC and a loss by the Packers to the Vikings would mean the second seed for the 49ers. But it sure seems unlikely they'd force Smith out on the field for what could amount to a meaningless game if the Packers win.
Instead, the logical move is to let Smith rest until the playoffs begin. Barrows reports that the team and Smith are "hoping he can tolerate the pain enough to be effective during the playoffs."
Smith might not get the pub that other defensive players do (although it's certainly gotten better for him over the past two years) but he's very much the lynchpin in the 49ers defense. Aldon Smith doesn't have a sack in the two games that Smith's missed.
And if they struggle to get after Brian Hoyer on Sunday and Smith isn't playing -- or is even limited -- it should be a big-time concern for the team going forward.
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