SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- If the San Francisco 49ers expect to make a run at the Super Bowl, they'll likely have to do so without the limited services of Justin Smith -- or without him all together.
A team spokesman confirmed Thursday that the four-time Pro Bowl selection has a bone spur in his left elbow that became detached from his left triceps tendon, which is related to a partially torn triceps tendon.
The team had been listing the injury, which occurred in the third quarter of the team's 41-34 win against New England on Dec. 16, as an elbow problem.
Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio didn't anticipate the team making any wholesale changes as a result to the loss of their best defensive lineman.
"You've just got to go," Fangio said. "It's too far along here to change the system because of one guy being out. And we'll be fine.
"He told me he's getting better each and every day. That's really all I know. He said it's getting better."
With Smith out, the 49ers' haven't showed any semblance of what had been widely considered the NFL's best defense. In the last six quarters, they've allowed 73 points -- more than what they gave up in eight combined games this year.
Fangio disagreed with the notion that the team's success was swung so drastically strictly as a result of Smith's absence.
"They just outplayed us, outcoached us in that (41-13 loss to Seattle) and we weren't very good," Fangio said. "We could have had five Justin Smiths maybe. That wasn't the issue in the last game."
Ricky Jean Francois stepped into Smith's right defensive end spot on the line and will start again this weekend when San Francisco hosts Arizona, the NFL's last-ranked offense.
"Hopefully we're able to get him back in the playoffs, but (we) also want to make sure he takes care of himself and does that right," linebacker Patrick Willis said. "But we most certainly miss him."
Fangio didn't seem overly concerned about Smith's long-term prospects.
"He told me he's getting better each and every day," he said." That's really all I know. He said it's getting better."