Is running back Frank Gore still on top of his game?

SANTA CLARA -- Frank Gore knows the numbers look bad. The player that coach Jim Harbaugh recently described as Hall of Famer is averaging a career-worst 3.9 yards per carry, has only two rushing touchdowns and hasn't broken a run longer than 28 yards all season.

"If people just look at stats, they'll think I'm through," Gore, 31, said Wednesday. "But if you watch the film -- and know the game -- you'll see. When we play other teams, guys come after the game and say, 'Man, how do you do this? You still got it.' "

Gore and the rest of the sputtering offense will try to get their numbers back on track Sunday when the 49ers (7-5) face the Raiders (1-11) in Oakland. This is the 49ers' first game since their offensive debacle against the Seattle Seahawks, when they struggled to get the ball past midfield.
Gore had 28 yards on 10 carries in that game. His longest run of the day? It went for all of 7 yards.

Such a diminished role ranks high on the list of questions surrounding offensive coordinator Greg Roman's play-calling. The team's all-time leading rusher has topped 20 carries only twice and has yet to catch more than two passes in a game.

Instead, the 49ers' show belongs to quarterback Colin Kaepernick, and increasing red-zone cameos from Carlos Hyde (four TDs).

It's an odd turn considering that recent 49ers offenses have fared best with Gore at the heart of the action, thump-thump-thumping away for tough yards. Since Harbaugh's arrival, the 49ers are 18-0 when they have a 100-yard rusher and 33-1-1 when the team runs the ball at least 30 times.

Those stats can be self-fulfilling -- winning teams run the ball more as they wind down the clock. But opponents such as Raiders cornerback Tarell Brown say the numbers also reflect that Gore remains "the identity of their offense."

"He's the guy that keeps the train rolling,'' said Brown, who spent seven seasons in San Francisco. "Every successful game that they've had this year, he's started off physical and running the ball."

Gore has only two 100-yard games this season, both victories. He's also had games of 10, 20 and 28 yards, all losses.

"I've always been a rhythm guy," the five-time Pro Bowl selection said. "The more I take, the more I feel better. It's different now. ... This year it's harder to get into rhythm because (opponents) are playing the run. Our offensive coordinator is smart enough to go away from what he feels they're trying to stop."

The 49ers need to boost their 22nd-ranked offense in a hurry if they are to climb back into a NFC playoff spot. The postseason chase has extra meaning for Gore, who recognizes that his window for winning a Super Bowl is closing. And while he knows he's in no position to get greedy, the impending free agent wants to win one while he's still a featured back.

"It would be great for me to be The Man of the team -- to help my team get it," Gore said. "Some guys late in their career have to go and search (for opportunities elsewhere). They play ... but not really."

Being "the guy" for a Super Bowl champ might also secure that spot in the Hall of Fame. Harbaugh's declaration aside, voters might still be waiting to see whether Gore merits enshrinement because, for all his other accomplishments, he's never led the league in rushing, never finished among the league leaders in touchdowns and never finished higher than fourth in yards from scrimmage.

On the other hand, he's someone who has amassed 10,679 career rushing yards while playing for some bad teams at the peak of his powers.

He needs only 289 more to climb into the league's all-time 20. From that group, 13 are already in Canton and one more is a slam dunk (LaDainian Tomlinson).
"I think he'd be a great candidate for the Hall of Fame," said former 49ers star Roger Craig, a Hall of Fame semifinalist again this season. "He's pushing 11,000 yards. You get up in that category, you're doing something special."

Gore's case for the hall might also hinge on the voters' willingness to look beyond the stat sheet. His grasp of the game's subtleties -- such as pass protection -- remain known only to the purists.

"The way that he pass protects, I've never seen anything like it,'' fullback Bruce Miller said Wednesday. "You watch tape of other guys and other backs around the league, and you realize Frank is second to none. ... I've seen countless knockout shots and guys on the ground. You just don't expect it from a guy (who is 5-foot-9).

"He's not a big body. But he's got the leverage and the timing that goes into it. It's incredible."

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