When the 49ers have been lost, Frank Gore has led them home.
In a victory over the Philadelphia Eagles Sunday, the veteran running back did it again.
After two consecutive losses, to the Bears and Cardinals in which the Niners seemed to lose their identity, head coach Jim Harbaugh’s team looked like itself again in beating the Eagles and getting back to .500 at 2-2.
And the 49ers did it with a proven formula: Give the ball to Gore on offense while stopping the run on defense.
Nothing fancy, just an old-fashioned, winning, physical formula.
After playing with four- and five-wide receiver sets last week at Arizona, the 49ers went back to basics on offense to beat the Eagles. In the previous two games, Gore had 19 carries. Against Philadelphia he carried the ball 24 times for 119 yards and also took a pass 55 yards for a touchdown.
As quarterback Colin Kaepernick said after the game, “Putting the ball in (number) 21’s hands is a good thing.”
Wide receiver Anquan Boldin said that was the Niners’ plan all week. They wanted to establish the ground game, use two-tight end sets and run straight at the Eagles to control the game and keep Philly’s spread offense off the field.
“That was our mindset, just getting him (Gore) back on the ball and getting him touches, making sure we controlled the line of scrimmage,” Boldin told Lindsay H. Jones of USA Today.
After Sunday’s game, Gore was a happy man, a big difference from Week 3 when he could barely speak after the loss to the Cardinals.
“This was a must-win,” he told San Francisco Chronicle columnist Ann Killion. “We played as one. And I think from this game, moving forward, you’ll see a lot of that.”
This has happened before in the Harbaugh era with the 49ers. Sometimes, Gore gets forgotten. Either San Francisco falls behind early and abandons the running game, or it goes off on a side track with the passing game. When that’s happened, the 49ers have struggled. But when Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman commit to the run – and give the ball to Gore – he delivers.
That’s what happened Sunday, and that’s what opponents may see more often going forward. Expect Gore to again be busy this coming Sunday at Levi’s Stadium against the Chiefs.
Peter King, of Sports Illustrated’s Monday Morning Quarterback, noted that it wasn’t surprising that Harbaugh’s 49ers responded to adversity with a victory. Last season, the 49ers started 1-2 but rebounded to finish 12-4.
Wrote King: “One thing you learn about the Niners under Jim Harbaugh in his three and a quarter seasons as coach: They don’t stay bad for long. The win over Philadelphia proved again that when the 49ers face adversity, they respond pretty well. In 52 regular-season NFL games coached by Harbaugh, he’s never had a three-game losing streak.”
And part of that goes to Harbaugh’s core philosophy: run the ball on offense. Give it to No. 21.