SFrank Gore has been the iron man behind the curtain for so long now, it’s easy to forget about him. He’s not one to complain – not very often, anyway – but he savored the applause Sunday after his game-breaking performance against the Seattle Seahawks.
He needed this. His 49ers needed this. His fantasy-league owners needed this.
In the closing minutes of a contest between NFC West rivals who would rather break bread with their ex-wives than share a meal with each other, Gore emerged from a mini-slump with the most explosive play at the most opportune time of the afternoon.
Four minutes remained. The 49ers were trailing 17-16. What better time to break off the longest run of the season, a 51-yard scamper that led to the winning field goal and caught everyone – fans, teammates, opponents – by surprise.
“It was a play designed to go left,” said center Jonathan Goodwin, “kind of standard for linemen. The tackle blocks the guy on him, and the guard pulls and kicks out. After Frank gets through the (left-side) hole, it’s just what he sees. He’s on his own then.”
Gore might not be what he used to be. He is 30 years old and is still only 5-foot-9 and 217 pounds. His size and the calendar are not in his favor. He has heard whispers about his physical decline for the past few seasons. His diminished role in the previous three games against New Orleans, Washington and St. Louis, during which he averaged 13.5 carries and 40 rushing yards, proved to be a further irritant.
“It’s been a tough last couple weeks,” Gore said glumly while seated at his locker last week. “We got to get the running game going back the way it was. I am frustrated. But we’re winning, so that’s the big picture. We do whatever it takes to win. Throwing the ball, we throw the ball. Running the ball ... it’s been frustrating.”
But there’s always been a special talent – call it resilience – to Frank Gore. He has seen 49ers quarterbacks come and go. He has been tutored by more offensive coordinators than he can remember. Occasionally, he feels unappreciated and lost in the shuffle, but as the Seahawks discovered Sunday, make a mistake at a crucial segment of the game, dangle a chance for some payback in front of him, and he’s gone, off like a kid after his Christmas gifts.
Against a stingy Seattle defense that was allowing only 107.2 yards per game, he took a handoff from Colin Kaepernick and ran to the left, then broke back and ran toward the right side, outracing both his blockers and defenders. What he really wanted to do, he said later, was dance into the end zone.
Instead, he deliberately ran out of bounds at the 18, aware that the 49ers needed only a field goal for the go-ahead score and intent on utilizing as much time as possible. The strategy worked. Seven plays later, Phil Dawson, who earlier connected from 23, 48 and 52 yards, drilled the game-winner with 26 seconds remaining, precluding any last-minute heroics by Russell Wilson and the Seahawks.
“We’ve been seeing an eight-, nine-man box,” said Gore, who finished with 110 yards on 17 carries, “but like I tell my linemen, ‘We just have to go out there, stop feeling sorry for ourselves and go take it.’ We have to stay getting positive yards, and we did that today. This is a big win. We’re taking small steps, and we still have a lot to learn. But beating a good team like Seattle, and still not playing our best ball, that’s great.”
Thus, another element is added to an already testy rivalry. Frank Gore got the last laugh, the last big play.