No team wants to go into the playoffs without its best player, so the 49ers face a decision over the final three games of the regular season:
Give running back Frank Gore some rest and let him heal, or use him to give the team its best chance to secure the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs?
On Monday, 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh revealed Gore isn’t completely healthy.
“He’s got some things,” Harbaugh told the San Francisco Chronicle’s Eric Branch. “He’s not 100 percent.”
In Sunday’s 21-19 loss to the Cardinals in Arizona, Gore had just 10 carries and wasn’t in the game for the Niners’ final two offensive plays. The 10 carries were the fewest he’s had in a game (in which he didn’t leave with an injury), since December of 2009, Branch noted.
Gore apparently is dealing with knee and ankle injuries that he incurred in consecutive games against the Redskins and Giants last month, Branch reported.
Before the game against the Giants on Nov. 13, Gore had five straight 100-yard rushing games. Since that game, he has just 272 yards on 75 carries.
Though Gore has missed no games in that stretch, he apparently is trying to stay on the field even though he’s not at his best.
He gets an extra day of rest this week, because the 49ers play a Monday night game against the Steelers, then follow with a game against Seattle (Dec. 24) and the season-finale against the Rams in St. Louis (Jan. 1).
The Sacramento Bee’s Matthew Barrows notes that the Niners’ game plan appears to have been altered with Gore banged up.
It’s possible that rookie Kendall Hunter could see more playing time down the stretch to allow Gore to heal in time for the playoffs. Before Week 10 against the Giants, Barrows reports, the 49ers had been a run-dominated offense. Since that time, San Francisco has run 145 times and passed 174 times. Sunday against Arizona marked the most lopsided pass ratio of the season for the 49ers, 42 passes vs. 21 rushes.
On Monday, Harbaugh said the Niners just need to deal with whatever issues face them, and make the best of it.
The Niners need wins to stay in front of the New Orleans Saints in the race for the No. 2 NFC seed (both are 10-3, but the 49ers have the tiebreaker edge), yet they also need healthy players. It’s a balancing act.
“You man up,” Harbaugh told reporters.