In end, 49ers' Gore answers the calls

The question lingered into the second half: Was it going to be another one of those games in which the 49ers ignored Frank Gore at a critical juncture?

It happened the previous Sunday in Arizona when Gore carried only 13 times for 14 yards and was visibly frustrated after the game.

And it looked like it was happening again Sunday, in a game that weather conditions appeared to dictate the necessity of a strong running game. Twice in the first quarter, the 49ers drove inside the red zone. The first time, the 49ers threw three incomplete passes and settled for a field goal. On the second, Gore carried once (for 4 yards), a third-down pass fell incomplete and the 49ers settled for another field goal.

For some people, including those vocal ones on Twitter, it was all getting a little too reminiscent of the end of the Super Bowl when the 49ers seemed determined to pass rather than give the ball to Gore.

But on Sunday, when the 49ers absolutely needed a running game - in the final two minutes of the game, when they needed to eat up the clock and get a first down - they turned to Gore.

First-and-10: Gore for 5 yards.

Second-and-5: Gore for 2 yards.

Third-and-3: Gore for 3 yards and a first down that set up Phil Dawson's game-winning field goal.

"It was big," Gore said. "It was a playoff game. We knew we had to get the first down. The O-line did a great job. That was big."

Gore, a South Florida native who played at Miami, went sleeveless and wore a hand warmer around his waist - but he wasn't going to pretend the conditions were anything short of brutal.

"It was tough," he said, adding that he wore a different type of spikes on his cleats for the field. "We knew it was going to be a cold game. But once you were on the field, you didn't think about it."

Gore was invaluable in other ways. He had key blocks on both of Colin Kaepernick's long runs.

Last January, Gore was vital to the 49ers' playoff success. He carried the ball 63 times in three games for an average of 5.1 yards per carry. It wasn't until the final, critical moments of the 49ers last game, the Super Bowl, that the coaches seemed to forget about Gore.

A word of advice: remember No. 21 this January - and, perhaps, February.

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