Apparently Frank Gore doesn’t want to miss a minute of the fun of this magical 2011 season.
The 49ers’ running back, knocked out of San Francisco’s game last week against the Giants with a knee injury – after already being slowed by a bum ankle – says he’s ready to play Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals at Candlestick Park.
He had missed Wednesday’s practice, and his readiness appeared in doubt for Sunday until Gore practiced Thursday.
“Yeah, I’ll play. I’ll play good,” he told Cam Inman of the Bay Area News Group.
The 49ers may give Gore a bit more help this Sunday than in past games, however, by rotating in Kendall Hunter and Anthony Dixon.
“Whatever the coaches want to do, I’ll be fine with it,” Gore told Inman. “But I want to be out there. I want to be out there bad.”
And who can blame him?
After suffering through some woeful seasons with the 49ers, Gore and his mates are on a roll this season at 8-1 with seven straight victories – their longest winning streak since 1997 -- and a big lead in the NFC West. Oddsmakers have made them 10-point favorites to keep that streak alive over the 3-6 Cardinals.
After the Arizona game, San Francisco will have a quick turnaround before a Thanksgiving night game in the “Harbaugh Bowl” against the Baltimore Ravens, coached by 49ers’ coach Jim Harbaugh’s older brother, John.
The return of Gore – who has rushed for 782 yards and five TDs – will mean the 49ers can rely on their running game, which ranks seventh-best in the NFL, at 130.9 yards per game. Gore also needs just 149 yards to pass Joe Perry (7,344) to become the franchise’s No. 1 running back. In the past, Gore has had success against Arizona. In his last home game against the Cardinals in December of 2009, he ran for 167 yards in a 24-9 win over Arizona.
The 49ers will face a Cardinals offense led by backup quarterback John Skelton, who’s taken over for the injured Kevin Kolb. Skelton has led the Cardinals to two wins, including a 21-17 victory at Philadelphia last week, when he threw for 315 yards and three TDs, two of those two standout wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald.
Arizona’s top running back is Beanie Wells, who rushed for 62 yards against the Eagles. He may find the going tougher against the 49ers, who are No. 1 in the NFL against the run, have not allowed a rushing score this season and have gone 31 consecutive games without allowing an opposing back to rush for 100 or more yards.
Aside from running the ball and stopping the run, the 49ers have been playing well in all facets of the game, ranking first in the NFL in turnover differential (plus-13) and field position. The Niners start their average drive at their own 32.5 yard line while their opponents’ starting spot is their own 24.5 yard line, reports Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle. And, he notes, 10 of the team’s 21 takeaways have allowed the 49ers to start drives in their opponents’ territory.
“That shows you we’re playing as a team, special teams doing what they have to do, offense and defense doing what they have to do,” Niners linebacker Parys Haralson told Branch. “Everybody is taking care of their business.”
As the Cardinals look ahead to Sunday’s matchup, they say they hope to get off to a good start and set the tone.
“When you do something good early on in the football game, it’s more incentive for you to keep going and running hard,” Wells told the Arizona Republic. Wells said facing the NFL’s best run defense is a challenge that has him excited.
“When you go up against a good defense like that, you always want to step up your game a little bit more,” he said.