Linebacker Patrick Willis may miss Sunday's game vs. Arizona. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
The 49ers are 10-2 and already NFC West champions, yet still find themselves defending their legitimacy to local and national media.
On Monday, Cam Inman of the Bay Area News Group reported that quarterback Alex Smith and linebacker NaVorro Bowman both were making cases for their team.
According to Inman, Bowman told the NFL Network that the 49ers consider themselves one of the NFL’s elite teams.
“At the end of the season, I’m sure we’ll get our respect,” Bowman told the network. “But we don’t feel we have the respect that we deserve yet, and that’s why we want to keep preparing and doing the things that got us this far.”
In addition to continuing to prove themselves to non-believers over the season’s final four games, the 49ers can also lock up the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs and a first-round bye.
Smith, meanwhile, was asked by a local radio station if he is a Super Bowl-winning quarterback. Inman reported Smith responded: “Absolutely. No question. I’ve got no doubt in my mind I can play with anybody, and on offense we can play with anybody. I’ve been through enough to know as quarterback you’re only as good as the guys around you.”
The 49ers have been an efficient offense this season, using a running attack led by Frank Gore and an improved Smith making few mistakes. The defense, special teams and ability to win the turnover battle almost every game, however, has been the team’s hallmark.
The Niners have a league-best 28 takeaways, reports Inman, and are No. 1 in the NFL in points allowed per game (13.4) and rushing yards per game (71.8).
But that defense may be without standout inside linebacker Patrick Willis this Sunday against the Cardinals in Arizona.
Willis had an MRI on his injured right hamstring Monday, and several reports indicate he has a Grade 2 hamstring strain. That means Willis is likely to miss practice and this Sunday’s game, but should be able to return to the lineup soon after the hamstring is allowed time to heal. With the division already clinched, the 49ers at least have some cushion to allow Willis time.
Gore, for one, believes No. 52 will be back soon and ready to roam the field again from sideline to sideline.
“I was kind of nervous, kind of scared because we need Pat,” Gore told the Associated Press. “He’s a big part of this team. He’s our leader. I feel good with 52 on the field, you know? I’m happy it was a hamstring and he’ll be fine.”