NFL: 49ers LB Willis to miss first game of career
AP Sports Writer
SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) – 49ers Pro Bowl inside linebacker Patrick Willis underwent a second surgical procedure this week on his broken right hand. He will miss a start for the first time in his four-year career in Sunday’s season finale against Arizona.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” Willis said in the locker room Wednesday, his hand heavily wrapped.
Willis, who played the past two games with a bulky cast on his hand, was voted to his fourth Pro Bowl on Tuesday. It’s unclear if he will play for the NFC squad in the game at Honolulu on Jan. 30. Willis planned to talk to San Francisco’s team doctors before making a decision. He missed the 2010 game with an inflamed right knee that later required surgery.
The 25-year-old Willis has a team-leading 128 tackles with six sacks and two forced fumbles. The team didn’t provide specifics about his latest procedure.
“I know it will have an impact because he’s such an outstanding football player,” Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said.
In May, Willis signed a $50 million, five-year contract extension with the Niners that takes him through the 2016 season and includes $29 million in guaranteed money. He earns $10 million per year.
Willis, who developed into a defensive star under recently fired coach and Hall of Fame linebacker Mike Singletary, has led the 49ers in tackles in each of his NFL seasons since San Francisco selected him with the 11th overall pick in 2007 out of Mississippi.
“It’s a loss for sure, no question,” quarterback Alex Smith said. “Not just for the defense but the team to have him not there in pads. He’s definitely a leader of this team. We’ll be affected by it. He’s certainly not asking anything of his teammates that he doesn’t ask of himself. That’s the thing I appreciate most about him.”
Navorro Bowman will start in Willis’ place against the last-place Cardinals.
The 49ers’ defense will have a different look without Willis, who had four solo tackles, an assist and a sack in a 27-6 Monday night victory at Arizona on Nov. 29.
“He’s a great player. I saw what he did last time he played us,” rookie Arizona quarterback John Skelton said. “He’s a talented guy, so that’s a big advantage for us.”