The San Francisco 49ers this week welcomed back linebacker Aldon Smith following a nine game suspension, but the anticipation at seeing the All-Pro star return to the fold has been tempered somewhat by the news that fellow All-Pro Patrick Willis has been ruled out for the season.
Tough to take
Willis, who hasn't seen action on the field since Week Six because of a persistent toe injury, has been placed on the season-ending IR after it emerged that he will undergo surgery on the toe.
The San Francisco 49ers overcame the New Orleans Saints thanks to an overtime field goal in Week 10 and had been hoping to build momentum going forward as they bid to secure playoff football. The news that one of their key men on the defensive side of the ball is done for the season however certainly puts a dampener on any positivity.
Losing a key man
Willis has been an integral part of the San Francisco defense for the best part of eight years and has seen that defense grow into a truly imposing unit in recent times.
And whilst the 49ers D has been looking good in recent weeks without their five-time first team All-Pro star the loss of such an important figure for the remainder of the season is a damaging blow to the franchise.
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When fit, Willis is one of the top defensive talents in the league and with the 49ers struggling to hit top gear on the offensive side of the ball so far in 2014 the need to have as many of their top talents on defense available had thought to be essential if Jim Harbaugh's side were to have any chance of making the playoffs.
With no prospect of his return for any of the seven regular season games still remaining for the franchise it certainly adds intrigue in the race for an NFC Wild Card spot.
What do you think 49ers fans? Can the defense continue to perform without key stars or will Willis's absence cost the team a run at the playoffs?