Patrick Willis to miss first NFL game

Updated: December 30, 2010, 1:14 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- 49ers Pro Bowl inside linebacker Patrick Willis underwent a second surgical procedure this week on his broken right hand. He will miss a start for the first time in his four-year career in Sunday's season finale against Arizona.

"I don't want to talk about it," Willis said in the locker room Wednesday, his hand heavily wrapped.

Willis, who played the past two games with a bulky cast on his hand, was voted to his fourth Pro Bowl on Tuesday. It's unclear if he will play for the NFC squad in the game at Honolulu on Jan. 30. Willis planned to talk to San Francisco's team doctors before making a decision. He missed the 2010 game with an inflamed right knee that later required surgery.

Also Wednesday, interim 49ers coach Jim Tomsula has made his pick: Alex Smith will start at quarterback the Cardinals.

Tomsula says the decision was based on Smith's experience. This is likely Alex Smith's final hurrah in a 49ers uniform. The 2005 No. 1 overall pick out of Utah will become a free agent after the season.

"It's nice to go out there and play well, period. I'm not really getting into what's going to happen after this," Smith said. "Whenever you go out there, even though it's the last game of the season and we're out of the playoffs, pride's on the line. You want to go out there and play well, no question. That's not going to change."

He has been booed repeatedly by the home crowd at Candlestick Park this year during San Francisco's struggles on offense. Smith was replaced by Troy Smith for five games from Oct. 31 through Dec. 5, initially after he separated his nonthrowing left shoulder at Carolina on Oct. 24.

Singletary went back to him Dec. 12 and Smith led the 49ers to a 40-21 victory over the division rival Seahawks. The next week, though, he was sacked six times in a loss at San Diego. Smith has an 18-31 record as the Niners' starter.

The 25-year-old Willis has a team-leading 128 tackles with six sacks and two forced fumbles. The team didn't provide specifics about his latest procedure.

"I know it will have an impact because he's such an outstanding football player," Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said.

In May, Willis signed a $50 million, five-year contract extension with the Niners that takes him through the 2016 season and includes $29 million in guaranteed money. He earns $10 million per year.

Willis, who developed into a defensive star under recently fired coach and Hall of Fame linebacker Mike Singletary, has led the 49ers in tackles in each of his NFL seasons since San Francisco selected him with the 11th overall pick in 2007 out of Mississippi.

"It's a loss for sure, no question," Smith said. "Not just for the defense but the team to have him not there in pads. He's definitely a leader of this team. We'll be affected by it. He's certainly not asking anything of his teammates that he doesn't ask of himself. That's the thing I appreciate most about him."

NaVorro Bowman will start in Willis' place against the last-place Cardinals.

The 49ers' defense will have a different look without Willis, who had four solo tackles, an assist and a sack in a 27-6 Monday night victory at Arizona on Nov. 29.

"He's a great player. I saw what he did last time he played us," rookie Arizona quarterback John Skelton said. "He's a talented guy, so that's a big advantage for us."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.