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Patrick Willis (toe) placed on 49ers' season-ending IR

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As San Francisco welcomes back Aldon Smith, it waves goodbye to Patrick Willis.

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The 49ers placed Willis on season-ending injured reserve. Willis hasn't appeared in a game since he injured the toe in a Week 6 win over the St. Louis Rams.

NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reported Tuesday that Willis will undergo surgery to repair his toe.

It's a crushing loss for the 49ers, who are forced to move forward without their six-time first-team All-Pro. Rookie Chris Borland has emerged as a tackling machine in the middle of Jim Harbaugh's defense, but Willis has been the unit's unquestioned heart for eight seasons.

"I promise you when I come back, I'll be better and stronger than I was before I left," Willis said Tuesday, via the team's official Twitter.

The Niners also appear to be in danger of not having the services of NaVorro Bowman this season. ESPN's Ed Werder reported Tuesday that Bowman is still having knee pain and is unsure when he will be cleared to return to practice. Bowman has not played a down since suffering a serious knee injury in the NFC Championship Game.

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