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Aldon Smith limited in return to San Francisco 49ers

The San Francisco 49ers weren't bluffing when they said Aldon Smith would have to earn playing time.

After fully practicing this week -- following his return from a leave of absence to seek substance-abuse treatment -- the 49ers' 2012 team MVP didn't play in the first quarter and, per Pro Football Focus, took just 12 snaps the entire game. San Francisco fell 10-9 to the Carolina Panthers.

After the game, Smith said he was "not really" OK with his role and hoped he'd get a full set of snaps moving forward.

"I'm a competitor and I want to be on the field, but whatever works," Smith said Sunday, per CSN Bay Area. "The season is long, so we'll see how it goes. I don't really call those shots. I just put my clothes on, put my cleats on and play."

Smith said that, while he didn't like it, the low snap count wasn't a surprise. The 49ers wanted Smith, who hasn't played since Sept. 22, eased back into the lineup.

The 49ers currently sit in the precarious spot for the final NFC wild card and take on the high-flying New Orleans Saintsnext week. While his replacements have been solid, they don't change the game the way Smith can; he entered Sunday still leading the team with 4.5 sacks. It would be a surprise if Smith didn't get his requested snap increase next week.

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