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Patrick Willis Eyes MNF Opportunity

Posted Nov 15, 2012

It’s been a unique week for the San Francisco 49ers as they prepare for a Week 11 showdown against the Chicago Bears on “Monday Night Football.”

First, it began with the media monitoring every move made by quarterback Alex Smith, days removed from the concussion he suffered against the St. Louis Rams.

Next, Smith returned to practice on Wednesday to take part in non-contact drills. At the time, it seemed like the team’s health issues had quieted to some degree. However, that wasn’t the case early Thursday when it was announced by the team that Jim Harbaugh had taken the day off to undergo a minor procedure to correct an irregular heartbeat.

Players found out the news at their morning walkthrough. Even without the presence of the league’s reigning Coach of the Year, leaders on the 49ers expected their coach would handle the health circumstance and come back better than ever.

“He always tells us he’s tougher than a two-dollar steak,” defensive co-captain Patrick Willis said. “We know he’s going to be alright. We have a bunch of great coaches here who are going to put everything on track.”

Assistant head coach and special teams coordinator Brad Seely led the team through practice and meetings for the day.

Safety Dashon Goldson said he had an inclination Harbaugh wasn’t around when he noticed the head man wasn’t inside of special teams meetings.

“He participates in all our meetings, our special teams meetings, stuff like that,” Goldson shared.

Willis saw Harbaugh in his normal spot sitting behind him in defensive meetings on Wednesday, but Willis couldn’t tell anything was wrong.

After learning what Harbaugh was going through, Willis reiterated the importance of his coach taking time to get better.

“His health is of the utmost importance,” Willis stressed. “We never want to see one of our coaches or players down, but as long as he comes back strong, comes back healthy, that’s all that’s important to us.”

Goldson anticipates Harbaugh will return to work sooner than later.

“It’s unfortunate something like that happened to a guy like that, but I know he’s a strong person,” the 49ers safety said. “He’ll overcome all that and we’ll see him tomorrow.”

It all goes back to San Francisco’s coach being tougher than the cheapest steak on the market.

“Yeah, that’s the kind of guy he is,” Goldson said. “He’s a real tough competitor. There’s no doubt in our minds he’ll be back. Our prayers are with him and his family.”

In the mean time, business will continue as usual for the 49ers defense. They’ll continue to prepare for a talented Bears offense, one that thrives off opportunities created by a turnover-forcing machine of a defense.

For Willis in particular, the focus is on limiting the production of one of the league’s most productive running backs, Matt Forte, who has carried the ball 123 times for 578 yards and four touchdowns on the year.

“Forte is one of the better runners in this league,” said Willis, a key member of the NFL’s top-ranked scoring defense (14.1 points per game). “He’s an all-around threat. It’s going to be a good physical game on Monday.”

Dual-threat running backs are nothing new to the 49ers defense. However, allowing three, 100-yard rushers through nine games is new territory.

Willis pointed out that Steven Jackson wouldn’t have surpassed the 100-yard mark if not for the game going into overtime, but also reiterated that the 49ers defense is up to the task of facing Forte on Monday night.

“Last week (St. Louis) had a play that was giving us problems, but we got it fixed as the game went along,” Willis said. “We’re going to be alright, we’ll be fine… There’s no concern, not for me.”

So while Jackson joined Ahmad Bradshaw and Marshawn Lynch as the only running back to rush for more than 100 yards against the 49ers in the past 25 regular season games, Willis doesn’t believe it’ll carry over into Monday’s matchup.

“Those games are behind us,” Willis said. “We have a big game coming up against a good running back and we’re going to have our work cut out for us.”

San Francisco’s rush defense ranks seventh in the NFL, allowing 95.3 yards per game. They’ll look to limit the production of Chicago’s ninth-ranked rushing offense, one that averages 127.0 yards per game.

And while Willis will be keyed on stopping the Bears running threat, he’ll also look to lead a 49ers defense eager to perform on the same field as a respected Chicago unit.

The Bears lead the NFL with a plus-14 turnover differential and the 49ers want to perform up that level on Monday.

“We haven’t been fortunate enough to get the turnovers that we want,” Willis said, “but there’s still a lot of football left and we’re going to continue keep going after the ball and keep trying to get them.

“We’ll need a great week of practice and I know we’ll be ready for the task.”

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