Harbaugh touts Justin Smith as MVP candidate


Harbaugh touts Justin Smith as MVP candidate

SAN FRANCISCO -- Defensive end Justin Smith has turned into the 49ers' closer.Smith batted down Eli Manning's fourth-down pass from the 49ers 10-yard line with 34 seconds remaining Sunday to preserve a 27-20 victory over the New York Giants at Candlestick Park.And 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh made a case for Smith as a candidate for NFL Most Valuable Player.

"He's a great player," Harbaugh said of Smith, who has earned back-to-back trips to the Pro Bowl. "He's having a great year. He should be in the MVP category, conversation. He's having that kind of a year for us."He's got a huge heart. That guy is just a big, strong, mighty man and we had a lot of them today."Smith and teammate Patrick Willis are legitimate candidates for NFL Defensive Player of the Year, as the 49ers have forged an 8-1 record with seven games remaining.Smith has 4.5 sacks to go along with his two game-clinching plays this season. In Week 4, he wrapped up a 24-23 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles when he chased down speedy wide receiver Jeremy Maclin and forced a fumble that ended the Eagles' final threat.On Sunday, Smith rushed against Giants left guard David Diehl on the final play after playing every defensive snap in the game. He knocked down Manning's fourth-down pass with his right arm."No. 1, I was tired," Smith said. "No. 2, they (the coaches) were telling us to get our hands up. They were throwing pretty quick on rhythm. I just put my hand there. Luckily, it was where the ball went. It was just blind luck."Said Willis, "Justin's a consummate team player. I told him on the sidelines, series after series, how much I respect him. I think he'll be one of the best players I'll have ever played with in my life and it's been a pleasure playing with him."Week-in and week-out he comes to play. He practices hard in practice and goes hard on Sundays. He's a tremendous player."Willis isn't too shabby, either.Smith finished with six tackles in the game. NaVorro Bowman led the 49ers with 14 tackles, but Willis has also placed himself into the conversation for NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Willis recorded 11 tackles, a sack and two tackles for losses.The 49ers hold a five-game lead in the NFC West. The victory over the Giants might have been their most impressive all-around performance of the season."They're a heck of a team," Justin Smith said. "We were talking about them with our coaches. The schemes they run and the way they attack had me guessing out there. Hats off to them. Keeping an offense of that quality out of the end zone bodes well for us."The 49ers own a two-game lead for the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs. The top two seed earn a first-round bye in the playoffs. But this victory also sent a message, Willis said."It's a big statement across the board, however you look at it," he said. "There was a bunch of people that doubted us this week, have been doubting us the whole season and will still doubt us.
"They have so many excuses as to why the Giants didn't win this game, whether it'll be, 'Eli wasn't having his day,' or whether it was the receiver wasn't this or the line wasn't this.' They're going to have something to say to try and take away from us winning this game, but at the end of the day we let them say what they want to say. We let the record speak for itself. For us, we're humble but we're still hungry."

Injury report: Staley's streak of 92 consecutive starts in serious jeopardy

Injury report: Staley's streak of 92 consecutive starts in serious jeopardy

Five-time Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Staley is listed as doubtful for Sunday’s game due to a hamstring injury, the 49ers announced on Friday.

Staley has the third-longest active streak among offensive tackles with 92 consecutive starts. Only Cleveland's Joe Thomas (156) and Oakland's Donald Penn (153) rank ahead of him on the list.

Coach Chip Kelly said Friday morning on his weekly show on KNBR that the 49ers have two more days of training “and then we’ll see what Joe’s status is going into the game on Sunday.”

Kelly added, “That’s kind of what we normally do with everybody. The best thing to say with Joe is he’s day-to-day. We’re hopeful, but we have two more days out on the field.”

With Staley not expected to play, the 49ers will likely shift left guard Zane Beadles to left tackle. Andrew Tiller, who started the first five games of the season at right guard, would likely start at left guard.

The 49ers expect outside linebacker Aaron Lynch to return to action on Sunday after missing five games with a high-ankle sprain, Kelly said on KNBR. Lynch is listed as questionable, along with defensive tackle Quinton Dial, who has a left elbow injury

The Jets will be without at least one starter. Right tackle Breno Giacomini was ruled out due to injuries. Brent Qvale, a third-year player from Nebraska, is scheduled to make his fifth NFL start.

Defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson is listed as questionable with an ankle injury.

T Joe Staley (hamstring)
DT Quinton Dial (elbow)
LB Aaron Lynch (ankle)

RB Khiry Robinson (lower leg)
DT Steve McLendon (hamstring)
T Breno Giacomini (back, calf, shoulder)
LB Lorenzo Mauldin (ankle)
S Antonio Allen (concussion)
WR Jalin Marshall (concussion)
DE Muhammad Wilkerson (ankle)

49ers expect Aaron Lynch to return to action vs Jets

49ers expect Aaron Lynch to return to action vs Jets

Outside linebacker Aaron Lynch has missed give games with a high-ankle sprain and still appears to be restricted while moving in pre-practice drills.

But 49ers coach Chip Kelly said Friday morning on his radio show on KNBR that he anticipates Lynch will be able to get back on the field Sunday against the New York Jets for just his fourth game of the season.

Kelly was asked about why the 49ers have not promoted outside linebacker Marcus Rush from the practice squad. Rush led the 49ers with six sacks in the exhibition season. His best game came against the Denver Broncos, beating former Nevada tackle Kyle Roberts for three sacks. Roberts is not on an NFL roster or practice squad.

“We haven’t had an opportunity at outside linebacker,” Kelly said. “We didn’t put Aaron on IR, and we anticipate getting Aaron back this week. So we really don’t have a spot at that position he plays.

“If we were to lose a player at outside linebacker, then we’d certainly think about activating him. But we ahven’t lost an outside linebacker, so we still have Ahmad Brooks, Eli Harold, Tank Carradine and Aaron. We carry four outside linebackers on our team. Aaron’s been out for a little bit here with his ankle, but it wasn’t a season-ending injury, so we just really don’t have a spot for him.”

Lynch has one sack in three games this season. He was suspended for the first four games of the season for violating the league’s policy on substances of abuse. He has not returned to action since sustaining an ankle sprain in the Oct. 23 game against Tampa Bay.