Niners Can Afford to Let Willis Heal Completely

Standout linebacker says team's defense is playing 'phenomenal'

By Doug Williams
|  Thursday, Dec 22, 2011  |  Updated 8:27 AM PDT
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Niners Can Afford to Let Willis Heal Completely

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Linebacker Patrick Willis wants to make certain he's 100 percent for the playoffs. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

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Patrick Willis is watching and waiting right now, knowing he has some time to get healthy.

The 49ers' standout linebacker, who has missed the past two games, says there’s no specific timetable yet for his return to a team that’s 11-3 and still in the running for the NFC’s No. 2 playoff seed and a first-round bye.

He hasn’t practiced or played since injuring his right hamstring in a victory over the Rams Dec. 4, and it’s unlikely he’ll play Saturday in Seattle against the Seahawks.

“Honestly, these last couple of weeks, I’ve done everything the trainers have asked me to do,” Willis told NFL.com this week. “We’re just taking it one day at a time and being smart. Each day my whole mindset is to get better, no setbacks. We’ve certainly done that and we’re just going to continue to work.”

In Willis’ absence, backup Larry Grant has played well, and the 49ers defense has continued to excel.

In shutting down Pittsburgh 20-3 on Monday night, the Niners extended their streak of not allowing an opposing back to rush for 100 yards or more (36 straight games) or a rushing TD through the first 14 games of a season (an NFL record).

The Niners rank No. 5 overall defensively in the NFL and rank No. 1 vs. the run, allowing just 71.5 yards per game.

Willis has been watching his teammates and marveling at how well the Niners defense is playing.

“Those guys are playing phenomenal, watching from the sideline,” he told Cam Inman of the Bay Area News Group. “How we run to the ball, how we’re physical, how we get to the point of attack and how we’re hitting. Seeing that from the sideline, it’s crazy.”

Grant, in his fourth season out of Ohio State, had five tackles and four passes defensed against the Steelers, and 11 tackles vs. Arizona the previous week. His performance has meant there’s been no hurry for Willis. He can take his time and make certain he’s good to go when the 49ers need him.

“When they pull the chains off, I’ll come back just as strong as when I left, it not better,” he told NFL.com.

 

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