Coach Jim Harbaugh said Tuesday morning on his KNBR radio show that he expects to see All-Pro defensive tackle Justin Smith back on the field shortly.
Smith exited the game Sunday night against the New England Patriots with an undisclosed left arm or elbow injury in the third quarter of the 49ers' 41-34 victory in Foxboro, Mass.
Harbaugh was vague Monday at his weekly press conference when asked about the severity of Smith's injury. On "The Murph & Mac Show," Harbaugh intimate that Smith's injury is not going to keep him out of the 49ers' lineup on a long-term basis. Smith underwent an MRI examination on Monday.
"I expect we'll see 'The Cowboy,' " Harbaugh said, using Smith's nickname. "Knowing what I know of Justin Smith and the situation, yeah, I think the Cowboy will be around. The Cowboy will be saddled up. . . Ropin' and ridin' . . .
"If it's humanly possible, the Cowboy will be out there ropin' and ridin'."
The 49ers (10-3-1) have a big game Sunday night against the second-place Seattle Seahawks (9-5). The 49ers would wrap up the NFC West title with one victory in their final two games of the season. But the 49ers might have to win both games (at Seattle and at home against the Arizona Cardinals) to assure the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs and a first-round bye.
Smith appeared to sustain the injury while trying to push the pocket backward on a pass play against a Patriots double team on the first defensive series of the third quarter. He remained on the field for two more plays before going to the locker room for further observation.
He returned to the 49ers sideline a short time later and had his left elbow wrapped. However, he could not finish the game. After sitting out the first game of his NFL career in a contract dispute, Smith has not missed a game in his 12-year career He has appeared in 189 consecutive games with 185 straight starts, the top active streak among all NFL defensive linemen.
On Sunday night, Smith said, "I'll do anything I can to play."
General manager Trent Baalke, speaking on his show late Monday afternoon on 95.7 The Game's "Bucher & Towny", was asked it would mean to the 49ers if Smith were out of action for any period of time.
"We'd be kidding ourselves to say we wouldn't be missing anything," Baalke said. "But our mentality here has been and always will be, next man up. They were able to rise to the occasion (Sunday), Ricky Jean (Francois) stepping in, Will Tukuafu stepping in, Clark Haggans in a limited role stepping in. The guys that got a chance to step in, stepped up.
"You saw Ray McDonald come up big, and raise his level in a big game. So we're very confident in the rest of the guys in the locker room. But, certainly, Justin is a big part of this football team and has been for a long time, and he would be missed."