The San Francisco 49ers have lost arguably the most important component of their defense for the remainder of the season, as linebacker Patrick Willis is missing the rest of the season for a strained muscle in his left big toe.
While on the surface, that may not sound like any kind of injury that would require a player to miss the remainder of the season, but the injury is severe enough that it will require Willis to get surgery to fix the issue, and Willis will be forced to miss the rest of the 49ers season.
“It’s very frustrating,” Willis said. “My teammates mean everything to me and I want to be out there experiencing all the good times and all the rough times with them.”
Since joining the league as a rookie back in 2007, Willis has accumulated more tackles than any other player since he entered the league. That contribution has been a significant part of what helped shape a 49ers defense that got San Francisco to 3 consecutive NFC Championship games.
After a tough start to this season, the 49ers have begun to bounce back a bit, and have played their way to a 5-4 record as they hope to still be able to compete in what has been a very tough NFC West. The 49ers still have quite a bit of catchup to play if they want to catch the defending champion Seattle Seahawks, much less the division leading Arizona Cardinals, who sit at 8-1.
The division competition is likely to stiffen as the Cardinals lost starting quarterback Carson Palmer for the remainder of the season in this past Sunday’s contest.
While the 49ers are certainly looking to try and emerge as playoff contenders as the season enters the stretch towards the playoffs, the loss of their defensive centerpiece is going to be a significant set back to a team that needs its defense to perform at a high level.
There is quite a bit of frustration from the 49ers camp, and Willis is no exception. At this point, however, all the 49ers can do is try to play their way into a 4th straight NFC championship game, and beyond, without the services of one of the top linebackers in the NFL.