SANTA CLARA, CALIF. — The Carolina Panthers had their hands full Sunday, but at least they were controlling San Francisco running back Frank Gore.
Then, suddenly, they weren’t.
Gore, who had 30 yards through three quarters, took a third-and-1 play up the middle early in the fourth quarter and broke it for 39 yards, setting up Phil Dawson’s final field goal in San Francisco’s 23-10 win.
The Panthers’ inability to control Gore at the end is one of the reasons they will be sitting home this weekend, while the 49ers visit the Seattle Seahawks for the right to go to the Super Bowl.
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“It felt great,” Gore said of his drive-extending run. “They are a tough defense. Going into this
week I told (teammates) I’m going to try to show the world against two of the best inside linebackers. I take my hat off to No. 59 (Carolina linebacker Luke Kuechly). He’s a great player.”
So is Gore, who holds team rushing records in, well, practically everything — including career yards, carries and touchdowns. He is 185 yards from one team record he does not own: Roger Craig’s 817 rushing yards in the postseason.
Gore’s big run against Carolina was similar in timing and impact to one he unleashed the last time the 49ers and Seahawks met – Dec. 8 in San Francisco. Gore ran for 110 yards in that one, with almost half coming on a 51-yard burst in the fourth quarter that set up the winning field goal in San Francisco’s 19-17 victory.
“They were running the ball OK in that game — they were competitive and all of that — and then they busted one that changed the game,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “... (Gore) did it again the other day, he busted one again. He’s really capable. He’s a fantastic runner. He’s got great sense, and he’s got as good a sense in the line of scrimmage as anybody that’s playing in the game. If you make a mistake, he takes advantage of it; and he certainly did that against us.”
San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh said Gore spoke with him on the sideline in Carolina, urging Harbaugh to keep feeding him the ball with the promise that good things would happen.
“He was really adamant about keep giving him the ball, keep giving him the ball,” Harbaugh said. “And I listen.”
After practice Tuesday at the 49ers’ facility, the guys who do the blocking for Gore said some of their slow starts on the ground simply reflect the toughness of defensive lines such as the Panthers and the Seahawks.
“You never know when you’re going to break a big one, so you got to keep blocking,” center Jonathan Goodwin said. “In this league you play against some good run defenses. It’s hard to break big plays.”
Added guard Mike Iupati: “Running the ball against the Panthers, you know it’s going to be hard. You’ve got to fight through it and still execute, and it’s going to pop — which (Gore) did.”
In a Monday meeting with the media, Harbaugh said he supports the Seahawks’ decision to try to keep CenturyLink Field tickets out of the hands of Niners fans. “Well, it’s within the rules,” he said. “It’s within the spirit of the rules of the National Football League. I actually respect it; that you’re trying to do for your team, put them in the best possible position to win that you can. And, I respect that their organization does that for their team.” ... Just as in New Orleans last week, the most-asked questions by Bay Area media involves the crowd noise at CenturyLink Field. And much like the Saints last week, most 49ers have responded that it is an exceptionally loud place to play, but they believe they will be able to adjust.