The 49ers have done few things consistently well this year and, as result, the performance of their stingy run defense has been largely lost in the rubble of a 5-10 season.
Today, however, linebacker Patrick Willis and defense tackle Justin Smith – two major reasons the Niners haven’t allow a 100-yard rusher in an NFL-best 21 straight games – were named to the NFC’s Pro Bowl roster.
Willis, who was named as a starter, became the first 49ers player since Ronnie Lott to begin his career with four consecutive Pro Bowl appearances. Willis said it was an honor to be linked with the Hall of Fame safety.
“Mr. Ronnie Lott is a guy who has done it for a long time,” Willis said. “When mention people mention his name, for my name to be in that same category it’s truly an honor because he’s a guy who has been there and done it. I’m still wet behind the ears, trying to learn as I go.”
According to NFL stats, Willis ranks tied for the fifth in the NFL with 128 tackles. He also leads the Niners with a career-high six sacks. Willis, who has played the past two games with a cast on his broken right hand, said he is unsure if he will play in the game due to his injury.
Smith, who was named as a backup, has a team-high 13 tackles for loss and ranks second with 5.5 sacks. The 10-year veteran is making his second straight Pro Bowl appearance, going last year as an alternate.
Smith said his excitement regarding the honor was dulled by the Niners’ disappointing year.
“The way the season ended … it’s a little bittersweet for sure,” he said.
Tight end Vernon Davis was named a first alternate and running back Frank Gore, sidelined by a broken hip, was named a fifth alternate.
The Pro Bowl will be held on Jan. 30 in Honolulu.