In yesterday's 17-9 49ers victory, the team's defense put together an MVP like performance at times. They benefitted from some poor play-calling by the Raiders, as well as some shoddy play by their QB Jason Campbell, so it makes this choice easier than it might already be. 49ers running back Frank Gore lifted this team on his shoulders and was instrumental in guiding them to victory.
The 49ers scored both of their touchdowns on Alex Smith passes and Smith did come up big in those two touchdown drives. However, none of this would have been possible without an amazing performance from Frank Gore. While we've seen Gore rush for more yards in games and break bigger single runs in the past, his individual rushes yesterday afternoon were really quite inspiring.
I say that because I lost track of how many teams the Raiders would grab hold of him and he would drag them forward for an extra couple yards. He turned one and two yard dives into four and five yard gains quite frequently. My favorite rushing play had to be his rush on 3rd and 11 with 5:07 left in the fourth quarter. The 49ers had taken a 17-9 lead and were looking for a first down to chew some more time off the clock. The Raiders offense struggled all day, but given recent performances by the 49ers defense, I can't be the only one who was expecting a punch to the gut at some point.
On the play, the 49ers lined up in the shotgun with three receivers spread out and a running back on each side of Smith (Gore to Smith's left). Gore took the handoff running behind the guard to the right before slicing back slightly to his left. At this point, Raiders safety Michael Huff had him perfectly lined up to make a tackle and stop him a couple yards short of the first down. However, Huff seemed to slide ever so slightly to his left and as he wrapped up Gore, he had him from the side instead of face-to-face. Frank Gore then proceeded to basically drag/carry Michael Huff another 4 yards across the first down line before he went to the ground.
There are two things in particular that I like about that run. The first was just the success he had on a run from the shotgun. Frank Gore has made it known in the past that he feels more comfortable running from a tradition formation where he's lined behind Smith, whether it be a single back formation or an I-formation. To see him have success in the shotgun is a nice confidence builder for the offense.
The primary reason this was probably my favorite run of the day was the way he just manhandled Michael Huff. This run captured Gore's performance yesterday in a nutshell. He obviously broke the big run as well, but he really put together a workman-like effort that helped the 49ers offense control the ball after the first quarter time of possession was dominated by the Raiders.
And it's fitting that he moved up in the 49ers record book amidst a day in which he ran wild on the Raiders. Earlier in the game Gore surpassed running back Ken Willard for third place all time on the 49ers career rushing list. He now trails only Roger Craig and Joe Perry on the 49ers leaderboard. At 6,032 yards, Gore trails Roger Craig (7,064) by 1,032 yards. To surpass Craig this season, Gore would need to average 103.3 yards per game. Not out of the realm of possibility, but still tough. Gore trails Perry by 1,312 for Perry's record going back to the 49ers first year in the NFL. If we also include Perry's two season when the 49ers were in the AAFC (which only seems right for record purposes), then Gore needs 2,657 more yards.
There has been a lot of discussion about Gore over the last few weeks. He ranks among the league leaders in total yards from scrimmage, although a sizable chunk of his receiving yards can be attributed to Alex Smith's large number of checkdowns. Nonetheless he remains an incredibly productive player for the 49ers. I think it's safe to say he'll provide up and down rushing performances over the course of the season. After all, this is a guy who's rushing totals ranged from 33 yards to 207 yards last season. He's quite frequently throughout his career been a boom or bust type of back in the running game. Even when he set the franchise record for rushing yards, he mixed in several 40+ and 50+ yard rushing games.
Personally, I'm willing to live with that because it gives us the chance to enjoy these big days he can have when he'll really put the team on his shoulder. The team will obviously have to start figuring out life after Gore because even though he's only 27 years old, in running back years that's an aged veteran. It will be interesting to see how he performs in the next couple years as he's kept on going in spite of numerous surgeries in college and early in his pro career (a pair of shoulder surgeries). However, for now even as the team hopefully works Anthony Dixon more and more onto the field, I'll enjoy what I can from Frank Gore.