49ers RB Frank Gore will be ready vs. Arizona

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SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) - Frank Gore showed up in the San Francisco 49ers' locker room Thursday wearing a blue, short-sleeved collared shirt. A dark blue patch on one side of his chest had "Frank" stitched in white letters.

Not the normal NFL attire.

While an outsider might've mistaken the two-time Pro Bowl running back for a plumber, Gore's outfit made a statement inside 49ers headquarters: He's back and ready to resume his blue-collar work.

The two-time Pro Bowl running back said his injured right knee has healed and he expects to revive his chase of San Francisco records Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals, the same team that ended his season last year with a fractured hip.

"Things happen for a reason," Gore said. "I'm back and I'll be ready."

That could be bad news for another NFC West opponent.

Gore had his franchise-record streak of five straight games with 100 or more yards rushing snapped last weekend against the New York Giants when he hyperextended his knee and was held to zero yards on six carries - his first career game without a yard. Gore has 7,196 career yards rushing and needs 149 more to pass late Hall of Famer Joe Perry (7,344) for the most in franchise history.

Consider the pursuit back at full speed.

Gore's absence from practice Wednesday - the first one he missed since a brief contract holdout at the start of training camp - turned out to be a decision by coach Jim Harbaugh to give his running back some rest. Gore returned to practice Thursday with no brace supporting his knee and the usual tape around his ankles.

"I want to be out there bad," he said. "I'll play. I'll play good."

San Francisco's surprising start this season has been built around a power running game.

Harbaugh's version of the West Coast offense at times includes seven offensive linemen and a mix of tight ends and fullbacks. Teams have started to take notice and are changing coverage.

The Giants often stacked the line of scrimmage with nine and even 10 players against the 49ers. They also added extra linebackers and linemen, doing all they could to force Alex Smith to pass, and things only got more complicated once Gore went down.

"It was pretty much a numbers situation. It was extremely loaded boxes," offensive coordinator Greg Roman said. "You've to go to some high school fields to find that loaded of a box."

Gore has been on a mission since the NFL lockout lifted in the summer.

He promised for months that he still was among the league's best running backs, a bold statement considering he's 28 and coming back from another serious injury. Gore also coveted a new contract and was rewarded with a $21 million, three-year extension before the season.

All he has done since is earn his paycheck.

Gore has run for 782 yards and five touchdowns this season. He also has 14 catches for 86 yards and has been a key cog in pass protection during San Francisco's seven-game winning streak.

"Since we got on a roll, we've just been running the ball successfully," Gore said. "Everybody's been trying to stop it."

Keeping Gore healthy for the playoffs is paramount.

Gore has had two major knee operations, countless ankle injuries and will be reminded of his most recent major setback when he takes the field against the Cardinals at Candlestick Park. He fractured his hip in a Monday night game against Arizona last November, cutting his season short and leaving everybody wondering whether he'd ever be an elite back again.

With the 49ers facing a quick turnaround at Baltimore on Thursday, rookie Kendall Hunter is likely to see extended time against the Cardinals to keep Gore fresh. Even Harbaugh joked about making sure his starting running back stays healthy.

"Frank's going to get the gold standard of medical care, just like all our fellas," Harbaugh said. "But Frank just a little bit more, a little extra for Frank."


Follow Antonio Gonzalez at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP


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