Finally, Frank Gore has had a chance to rest and feel healthy again.
Come Saturday afternoon at Candlestick Park, the 49ers’ veteran running back should be back to his midseason self, ready to carry the football all game long against the Saints in an NFC division-round playoff game.
But even if Gore were battered and bruised, he says he’d be good to go. After playing six seasons in the NFL without ever going to the playoffs, there’s no way Gore would pass up the opportunity to play Saturday.
“I waited a long time,” Gore told Steve Corkran of the Bay Area News Group. “And my goal (as well as for) everybody who plays this game, is you want to go to this postseason. I always wanted that, to be able to show everybody in the world what I’m made of as a player.”
The Niners will certainly need Gore Saturday if they want to get by the Saints and into the NFC Championship Game.
Gore, 28, who rushed for 1,211 yards this season, is not only the workhorse for an offense that thrives on its success in the running game, but he’s also one of the best blocking running backs in the NFL and a key to helping out on the blitz. And, as the Saints showed the 49ers in the exhibition season, they’ll blitz all game long.
Successful runs by Gore and backup Kendall Hunter can counter the Saints’ blitz, and Gore can help keep blitzers away from quarterback Alex Smith in passing situations. In Gore's last game against the Saints, early in 2010, he rushed for 112 yards and scored two TDs in a 25-22 New Orleans win.
For Gore, it almost was a tale of two seasons, a slow start and a slow finish sandwiched around five consecutive 100-yard rushing games in the middle of the season.
Coming off a 2010 season which had been cut short by a hip injury, there was some talk that Gore had lost a step, and in his first three games he was averaging less than 3 yards per carry. Then, in the fourth game of the season at Philadelphia, he exploded for 127 yards and followed that up with a 125-yard game vs. Tampa Bay, 141 yards vs. Detroit, 134 yards vs. Cleveland and 107 yards vs. the Redskins.
As the season progressed the rushing totals declined. In the final game, against the Rams, Gore was given the second half off, then came the bye week. Now, Gore says he feels fresh again.
“I feel pretty good,” he told Bay Area News Group columnist Tim Kawakami. “Got a chance to rest.” Gore added the bye week gave him a chance to “get my mind right” and get pumped for the playoffs.
Gore said if the 49ers can play their style of football – rely on their defense, establish the running game, don’t turn the ball over and play well on special teams – San Francisco can beat the Saints, who have been on a roll for several weeks with an explosive offense.
“We’ve just got to play 49ers football,” Gore told Kawakami. “As long as we do what we’ve been doing all year, going out there playing hard, protecting the ball, defense (playing well), it should be a good game.”
For Gore, winning the NFC West and getting a chance to play in the postseason – especially after coming off an injury in 2010 – has made this the best season ever.
“To come back and have a pretty good year – not just individually but as a team – I’ll take this year over any year in my career so far,” he told Corkran.