SANTA CLARA — The pain Patrick Willis is feeling in his groin is not enough to keep him from starting in his home state when the San Francisco 49ers face the Tennessee Titans on Sunday.
Not even close.
San Francisco's All-Pro middle linebacker, who also is still healing a broken bone in his right hand suffered during training camp, plans to play through the pain for the second straight week after missing the previous two games. He admits he's not healthy — just healthy enough to help his team.
"I'd be lying if I said I felt A-plus out there," Willis said Thursday. "I can't lie and say I can get to fifth gear right now. I don't think I can. But I think my first, second and third gear, maybe fourth, can be enough to do well. And hopefully when that bye week comes, I can get back up to that seventh gear."
The 49ers (4-2) still have two games to play before that week off. And the way Willis sees it, he can grind through games at Tennessee (3-3) and against Jacksonville (0-6) in London and rest later.
San Francisco sure hopes that formula works out. Willis was solid, but not spectacular, for most of the 49ers' 32-20 win over Arizona last Sunday — but he made the biggest play of the game.
With the Cardinals driving for a go-ahead score in the third quarter, Willis stripped the ball from wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald deep in 49ers territory. Rookie Eric Reid recovered, and San Francisco started an 18-play touchdown drive that put the game out of reach.
"I know it made Pat feel good to get his feet back out there," fellow All-Pro middle linebacker NaVorro Bowman said.
Forcing turnovers is something Willis and the 49ers have been awfully good at lately.