The 49ers seemingly could have bought additional time for Pro Bowl linebacker Patrick Willis, but they made him active for the first time since Willis suffered a hamstring injury Dec. 4. That presumably means the team feels confident Willis is at no additional risk for further injury.
With Ginn and Williams out, the 49ers will rely upon less proven players, not just on offense but in the return game.
Brett Swain starts opposite Michael Crabtree at receiver, where the 49ers have only three players active -- an unusually low number that includes undrafted rookie Joe Hastings, signed Saturday from the practice squad. Ginn and Williams were the top two returns specialists. With Delanie Walker also inactive, the 49ers are very thin on pass-catchers. With two fullbacks active, we can expect plenty of "22" personnel with two backs and two tight ends, it appears.
This means we could see safety Reggie Smith returning punts, with rookie running back Kendall Hunter serving as the primary kickoff returner. The 49ers did not make a formal announcement on a change at punt returner, but coach Jim Harbaugh indicated Friday that Smith could get the call.
With a victory at St. Louis or a New Orleans defeat against Carolina, the 49ers' injured players will gain another week to heal by virtue of a first-round playoff bye. There were no surprises among the Rams' inactives Sunday. Quarterbacks Sam Bradford and A.J. Feeley remain out, leaving Kellen Clemens as the starter.