Justin Smith braces for pain in 49ers’ moment of need

San Francisco 49ers defensive end Justin Smith (94) warms up before the NFC divisional round playoff game against the Green Bay Packers at Candlestick Park.
  • Justin Smith is playing with a partially torn triceps tendon.
  • Jim Harbaugh estimated Smith was at 90-100%25 full strength.
  • Smith said he wasn%27t concerned about further injuring his arm.
  • SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Justin Smith is now a member of the NFL’s high-profile arm brace club. Has the apparatus he wears to protect the partially torn triceps tendon in his left arm become his friend or hardware he hates?

    “It’s a love-hate relationship right now,” the San Francisco 49ers defensive end said Wednesday as his team readied for Sunday’s NFC title game against the Atlanta Falcons.

    “It’s doing its job, and it felt pretty strong. Doing anything the second time is better than the first time, so it should definitely be a lot better, a lot more comfortable.”.

    Smith, who made his fourth Pro Bowl this season at age 33, suffered the injury in Week 15 against the New England Patriots. After never missing a game due to injury in 11 previous seasons, he sat out the last two regular-season games.

    He returned Saturday to make four tackles and an assist while wearing the brace in a playoff win over the Green Bay Packers. Star defensive lineman J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans also wore an arm brace this season after a preseason elbow injury. Linebacker Ray Lewis of the Baltimore Ravens is wearing a brace after recovering from a torn right triceps.

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    Smith’s brace has four black straps. Two fit over his forearm and the other two over his upper arm. There is a hinge with a control to limit how much the arm flexes.

    The 49ers aren’t saying how bad Smith’s tear was. Coach Jim Harbaugh was asked how he would rate Smith.

    “I don’t know, about 100 percent of 90 percent or 95 percent,” Harbaugh said. “He said he felt good the next day. He was in a great mood and ate a real big lunch and was real upbeat after the game.”.

    Smith’s contributions go beyond tackle stats. At his best, the 6-foot-4, 285-pounder from Missouri stacks up multiple blockers at the line of scrimmage and enables linebackers such as Patrick Willis to make plays in the 49ers’ 3-4 defense.

    “We’re just glad to have him in there,” Willis said. “Anytime he’s out there, you have to account for him. You have to almost put two guys on him, because if you don’t, that’s a chance he has of winning. Even when you put two guys on him, he still can have a chance of winning.”.

    Is Smith concerned about further injuring the arm — especially after complications hit Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III (knee) and New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski (arm fracture).

    “It’s like anything. If it’s half torn or whatever, you could tear it the rest of the way,” Smith said. “I’m not really concerned about it. Just go out there, do the best I can and see what happens.”.

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    A season ago, the 49ers beat the New Orleans Saints in their playoff opener and lost to the New York Giants in the NFC title game. Smith said the 49ers are better braced this season for the challenge.

    “The majority of the guys in the locker room were here last year and felt the disappointment,” Smith said. “We were so excited after winning the Saints game. (This season) I didn’t feel the same like, ‘Oh, we did it’ after the Packers game. I feel like the whole team has kind of got a sense that there’s more to this thing than just getting to this game.”.

    How did the brace come out of its first game in the NFL trenches?

    “It came out pretty good,” Smith said. “I really didn’t inspect it too much, but it’s still good.”.

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