When San Francisco 49ers DE Justin Smith was knocked out of the game during the win over the New England Patriots in Week 15, it seemed as though the feeling was the injury was only serious enough to keep him out of the remainder of that game, and he’d be able to return for the pivotal game against the Seattle Seahawks.
As it turned out, Smith was not able to play in that game, and the Seahawks handed San Francisco a 42-13 beating as well as a delay on possibly celebrating their second straight NFC West division championship. Without Smith it seemed as if Seattle was able to move at will against the 49ers, and things aren’t going to get any easier for the Niners moving forward.
Now with only one game left to determine playoff positioning, there are reports surfacing that Smith might not be able to go in the regular season finale, and possibly even into the playoffs. This is bad, bad news for the 49ers.
The only thing that San Francisco head coach Jim Harbaugh would say when asked if Smith was going to be available for Week 17 and beyond was, “I don’t know for sure.” That can be translated into either Harbaugh just being aloof like head coaches usually are when it comes to key injuries, or that things are worse than they seem.
The Niners’ defense looks very different when Smith is absent, and his replacement Ricky Jean Francois is on the field instead. Without Smith in the lineup for six quarters, San Francisco was outscored 73-37, a far cry from the 13 point per game average the Niners’ defense had been giving up prior to those two games.
Without Smith in the lineup, San Francisco could have a short playoff life, as they will likely come up against teams like the Green Bay Packers, Atlanta Falcons and even possibly the Seahawks again. All offenses that can put up huge numbers, especially when their quarterbacks aren’t put under a lot of duress.