Frank Gore's hot hands lead calm, cool 49ers

NEW ORLEANS -- When the San Francisco 49ers fell behind Atlanta 17-0 early in the NFC Championship Game, they did the opposite of panic. They handed the ball to Frank Gore four times in a row.

Two first downs and 20 yards later, they had found their rhythm. Gore's kick-start spurred the 49ers to touchdowns on four of their next six full possessions, and a fifth ended with a fumble inside the Falcons' 1.

“Everyone said let's not panic," offensive guard Alex Boone said. “Let's not freak out and just be who we are and let's get back to football. That's the one thing about this team. We've grown to have a confidence about it. We can put points up. We just have to be calm. Things aren't going to always go our way, but the key is not worrying about it. Our team did a great job of that.”

By returning to the basics instead of bombing away, the 49ers showed impressive self-assurance. Look for another heavy dose of Gore against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday in Super Bowl XVLII because that's what San Francisco does.

Gore is tough. He's reliable. He gets the job done.

His stat line against Atlanta was typical -- 21 carries for 90 yards with a long run of 11. After starting the 49ers' first touchdown drive, he finished the last two, scoring as they cut their deficit to 24-21 at the start of the second half and providing the winning touchdown in the fourth quarter.

“We always credit Frank with the tough yards,” fullback Bruce Miller said. “He doesn't get the easy runs. He gets downhill, up the middle, 3, 4 yards a carry. That's what Frank does for us. He just continues to move the chains and keep the ball in our possession, which is why we're here.”

Quarterback Colin Kaepernick has dazzled with his feet (Green Bay) and his arm (Atlanta) in San Francisco's run to the Super Bowl, but at their core, the 49ers are about Gore. Before his effort at Atlanta, he rushed 23 times for 119 yards and a touchdown against Green Bay, adding a 45-yard reception.

He finished the regular season with 258 carries for 1,214 yards, the second-highest total of his eight-year career. His average per-carry (4.7) was his best since 2009, even though it was not padded by long runs. His biggest gain on the ground was 37 yards, his worst season-best.

“[We are] physical and tough,” Gore said. “It's hard to break us. We're going to fight to the end. We have a great team.”

When the 49ers keep pounding him, they almost always get good results.

Only three opponents held San Francisco to fewer than 100 rushing yards, and none of those efforts was Gore's fault. The 49ers abandoned the run in losses to Minnesota (Gore had 12 carries for 63 yards), the New York Giants (eight carries for 36 yards) and Seattle (six carries for 28 yards).

They did not make that mistake against Atlanta, improving to 12-1 when he runs 15 or more times.

“His work ethic is inspirational,” Miller said. “When you see him in the facility, the weight room and the practice field -- everyone knows he's a good football player on Sunday -- but his work ethic, the other times, is what we see. He pushes everyone to be a better football player.”

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