Willis punishes linemen and receivers alike

December, 10, 2008
12/10/08
12:01
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Before we take a closer look at the 49ers, please heed this quick public-service announcement: If you see coming toward you a large man wearing a red shirt with "52" emblazoned in white across the front and back, buckle your chinstrap, bite down on your mouthguard and call for the trainer. Patrick Willis is about to annihilate you.

Willis

Apologies to the New York Jets for failing to pass along this warning a week ago. Willis, the 49ers' Pro Bowl inside linebacker, punishes offensive players of all positional denominations. He strikes me as a more athletic version of his head coach, Mike Singletary.

Two plays involving Willis stood out Sunday. On one, Pro Bowl Jets guard Alan Faneca failed to keep a low base when trying to remove Willis from a running play. Willis jolted Faneca hard enough to lift the 307-pound lineman off the ground. Willis discarded Faneca and took down the runner for a short gain almost in one movement. Not many linebackers can do that.

The other memorable play featured Willis blasting Jets receiver Brad Smith hard enough to knock Smith from the game after a late 7-yard reception. Safety Michael Lewis was chasing Smith from behind when Smith seemed to notice Willis approaching from the front side. Smith slowed and started to duck as Willis closed the distance. Lewis was tackling Smith from behind when Willis lowered his shoulder and hit Smith high.

Smith initially got up, seemingly on instinct, then dropped to his knees after about 13 seconds. He spent the next 93 seconds on the ground while medical personnel tended to him. Smith then rose with help. Nearly another 30 seconds elapsed while Smith left the field.

CBS analyst Phil Simms said he thought the hit was a clean one. Replays showed helmet-to-helmet contact. This did not appear to be a dirty play, in my view, but it was certainly violent.

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