49ers tilt offense back toward ground game

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) - The San Francisco 49ers are at their best offensively when they get Frank Gore involved and keep going to their star running back.

That was never more evident than Monday night against the Arizona Cardinals, when Gore had 27 touches and rushed for 167 yards to lead a 24-9 upset that kept the 49ers alive in the NFC playoff chase.

Gore had more yards rushing against Arizona than he did in San Francisco's three previous games combined as the 49ers produced one of their most consistent offensive performances of the year to sweep the season series from the NFC West-leading Cardinals.

It tilted the balance of the offense back to the ground after the 49ers had mixed results over the past month going with more of a spread offense that filled the air with passes but limited Gore's opportunities.

"When everybody is on the same page, I think this offense can do whatever it wants to," Gore said Wednesday. "And on Monday night, that's what it was. We were on the same page, and the world saw what we can do."

Gore's performance was rewarded with NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors for the second time this year and fifth time in his career. It also helped the 49ers win the time of possession battle and match their highest point total in a game since early November.

Just as significantly, it will give opponents more to think about when the San Francisco offense is on the field over the season's final three weeks.

The 49ers (6-7) will need a strong showing from their 27th-ranked offense to keep pace Sunday when they travel to play NFC-East leading Philadelphia (9-4).

The 49ers had veered away from their running game over the past month with quarterback Alex Smith throwing 33 or more passes in each of the team's past four games and 41 or more in three of the past six weeks.

"But now we can throw a lot at you and give a lot of different looks," Smith said. "It's difficult to prepare for it all. You don't know what's going to show up on Sundays. But absolutely, we have to get Frank the ball whether it is run or pass, because there's no question he's a playmaker for this offense."

Gore missed almost three full games earlier this season with an ankle injury. He admitted he became frustrated upon his return as the offense sputtered around him and failed to establish a consistent running game.

Gore had just 32 rushing attempts over a three-game stretch that ended with him gaining only 25 yards on the ground in San Francisco's 20-17 loss at Seattle on Dec. 6.

"It's been a tough road for me the last couple of weeks," Gore said. "Things weren't going right in the running game. I wasn't really used to not touching the ball as much. What was really frustrating was when I was watching film and kind of saw myself pressing too much."

Now Gore is pressing toward his fourth consecutive 1,000-yard season. Last year he became the first player in San Francisco's 64-year history to rush for 1,000 yards or more in three consecutive seasons.

Gore has climbed to sixth among the NFC's rushing leaders with 835 yards, and his 5.2 yard average per carry ranks third in the conference among backs with 77 carries or more.

"Frank's doing a phenomenal job," coach Mike Singletary said. "He had every right to be frustrated and upset. I would have been, too. But he just continued to hang in there with us and let us try and figure out the balance of the offense and get it going. We have to find a way to get him the ball. It's as simple as that."

Gore also is second on the team with 43 receptions. He ranks seventh in the NFC with 1,116 yards from scrimmage. He already has set career highs with 10 total touchdowns and three receiving touchdowns.

While it was good to get back in his familiar ground groove Monday, Gore said he's more interested in results than rushing carries.

"I just want to win," Gore said. "If we have to pass the ball to win, I'm with it. If we have to run the ball to win, I know my guys are with that. Whatever the scheme that is working, if it's going to help us win, let's do it."


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