SANTA CLARA – Defensive lineman Justin Smith may not be worth 29 points, but the 49ers feel a lot better knowing their most impactful defensive player will be on the field Sunday night against the Seattle Seahawks.
The 49ers were ambushed in December when they traveled to face the Seahawks without the services of Smith, who has been selected to four consecutive Pro Bowls.
Smith sustained a partially torn left triceps tendon the previous week against the New England Patriots. He was relegated to being a spectator for the 49ers’ 42-13 loss at CenturyLink Field.
“That was last year,” Smith said Thursday when asked about watching that game from the sideline.
Smith missed the final 2 ½ games of last season, bringing an end to his streaks of 189 consecutive games played and 185 starts. Up to that point, Smith had not missed his a game in his first 12 seasons due to injury.
Without Smith on the field, Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch rushed for 111 yards and a touchdown, and quarterback Russell Wilson tossed four touchdown passes.
“It was a big factor,” 49ers middle linebacker Patrick Willis said. “Justin, to me, he’s one of the best defensive players in this game. He shows you week-in and week-out. Any time he’s not out there, we miss him. There’s no question about that.
“We got him back now. We know he’s going to be a difference maker, as always.”
Smith returned for the playoffs but was not at full strength. He underwent surgery shortly after the Super Bowl, and appears to be back close to his old form. He recorded three tackles in the 49ers’ 34-28 season-opening victory against the Green Bay Packers while playing 52 of the team’s 62 defensive snaps.
[REWIND: 49ers 34, Packers 28]
“I just try not to think about it,” Smith said. “If something happens again, something happens again. I’m not out there trying to gauge it every day. It’s part of football. Anything can happen to anybody at any time.”