FOXBORO, Mass. -- When things got difficult for the 49ers on Sunday night, one of their leaders was on the sideline with an injury.
Justin Smith, whose 188 consecutive games played is the longest-active streak in the NFL among defensive tackles, sustained a left arm injury and was unavailable for much of the fourth quarter. The New England Patriots rallied from a 28-point third-quarter deficit to tie the game.
After the 49ers reclaimed the lead, Smith's replacement, Ricky Jean Francois, provided one of the big plays with a third-down sack of New England quarterback Tom Brady with 5:05 remaining to help the 49ers preserve a 41-34 victory at Gillette Stadium.
Jean Francois' sack, on which he beat Patriots left tackle Nate Solder, came one play after Ray McDonald dropped Brady for his second sack of the game.
"It's next man up," Smith said. "Ricky is a heck of a player and he came in and made a heck of a play. It was a huge play, a big turning point in the game."
Smith said he is scheduled to undergo an MRI examination on Monday back in the Bay Area. The 49ers announced Smith's condition as an elbow injury. He tried to return after getting his arm wrapped, but was unable to remain in the game.
"I'll see on the MRI, and we'll go from there," Smith said. "I'll do anything I can to play."