Frank Gore, 49ers focused on strong finish

Frank Gore and the San Francisco 49ers are hoping for a strong finish to the regular season, beginning with Monday night's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The 49ers have lost two of three since a 9-1 start, and Gore has gone five consecutive games with 88 yards rushing or fewer after stringing together a franchise-record five straight games of 100 yards or more on the ground.

But Gore and his team see Monday's game as a platform to regain momentum and resume the resurgence that has pushed the 49ers into the playoffs for the first time in nine seasons.

''It's a blessing the situation I'm in and the team's in, and everybody wants to win these last three games,'' Gore said Saturday. ''We know that Pittsburgh's a good team that's been playing together a while and is coming in here with a great defense. We just have to go out there Monday night against a tough defense and play 49ers ball, the kind of ball that got us here and this far.''

Gore has played a key role in San Francisco's first winning season and NFC West championship since 2002. He ranks fourth in the NFL with 1,054 yards rushing, recording his team-record fifth 1,000-yard season in six years while becoming the franchise's career leading career rusher two weeks ago.

But opponents have been stacking the line of scrimmage more to stop him, an approach that has become more effective since mid-November. That has caused problems for a struggling San Francisco offense that has been held below 234 yards twice in the past three games.

Next up is Pittsburgh, which features the same 3-4 defensive scheme that gave the 49ers fits in recent losses to Baltimore and Arizona. The Steelers rank second in the NFL in total defense and sixth in rushing defense, and they're likely to follow the blueprint for stopping San Francisco's offense established recently by the Ravens and Cardinals.

''Frank can be productive against anybody,'' 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman said. ''I think we've seen that. But the running game is a fixture of 11 people doing their job. All 11 people have to do their job to be successful.''

Gore has been hampered by ankle and knee injuries, and the 49ers have had to consider balancing his playing time with keeping their workhorse fresh.

Gore's 37-yard touchdown run last week gave San Francisco a 19-7 lead early in the third quarter. But Gore carried the ball just twice more the rest of the game and San Francisco managed just 41 yards of offense over the final 27 minutes while Arizona rallied to end the 49ers' five-game winning streak between the two NFC West rivals.

The 49ers settled for field goals in all three of their red zone opportunities and were just 3 of 17 on third-down conversion attempts, continuing their season-long problems in both areas.

''There's certain situations where we have to get better, and we're going to get there,'' Gore said. ''We just have to start scoring more points when we have the opportunity. We've had a good week of practice and feel good. We're going to go out there and enjoy this game.''

The 49ers might be without Pro Bowl linebacker Patrick Willis for the second consecutive week. Willis missed practice again Saturday and is listed as questionable to play against the Steelers.

Left tackle Joe Staley, who suffered a concussion last week, returned to practice in a limited fashion after sitting out Thursday and Friday. He's also listed as questionable.

Coach Jim Harbaugh has been pleased this week with how his team reacted to a recent stretch of adversity that included injuries and offensive ineptitude. He's eager to see how the 49ers respond Monday.

''I feel good about where we are right now,'' Harbaugh said Saturday. ''This is what we prepare for. Look forward to going out there and putting it on the line. That's what these guys do: They go put it on the line. That's the pressure. That's the excitement of it.''

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