The burden of carrying a struggling offense was too much for Frank Gore during the 49ers' first…
Something 'different' about this Niners team
The list includes:
--- First time the team has won back-to-back road games since 2006.
--- First time they've won consecutive games in the Eastern time zone since 2001.
--- First time they've come back from a 20-point deficit since beating the Giants in a January 2003 wild-card playoff game.
--- First time they've deficit of 20 points or more in a regular-season game since 1996.
But beyond the firsts is a feeling that this team is simply different in its mindset, a feeling that could carry the team for the rest of the season.
"It was a different mentality," quarterback Alex Smith said of the halftime mood, when the 49ers trailed 20-3, a deficit that later grew to 23-3. "There was no finger pointing. This is a different team, and we stayed together."
Interviewed by Comcast Sportsnet, running back Frank Gore looked into the camera and told the Bay Area, "This is a different team."
Smith said what makes it so was their reaction at halftime in which little was said. The starting offensive players simply got together and told each other to execute and the team will have a chance.
"The big plays were there in the first half," wide receiver Joshua Morgan maintained. "It was just little stuff, little protection errors that we had. We just cut that out."
Coach Jim Harbaugh might also have learned something. Previously, Harbaugh has attacked teams with heavy run formations, sometimes going with seven-man offensive lines and often sporting two-tight end, two-back formations.
It appeared as though he had very little trust in Smith.
Against the Eagles, he was forced to let Smith pass, and the 49ers used their three-receiver, shotgun formation more often. Smith responded by going 13-for-17 for 201 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in the second half.
He broke out for 179 yards passing in the third quarter alone, the most prolific quarter of his seven-year career.
Also, by spreading out the formations, Gore found more running lanes.
Bothered by a swollen ankle all week, Gore did not start. But he certainly finished. Running out of many three-receiver formations, Gore raced for 127 yards on 15 carries, an average of 8.5 yards per carry. He came into the game averaging a 2.5 yards a tote.
So does this mean the 49ers will keep the offense "open" so to speak when they return home for the first time in two weeks to play the Buccaneers?
No one knows except Harbaugh and the coaching staff and Harbaugh would rather sell one of his kidneys online than reveal a game-plan tactic.
But after Sunday's performance, one would think Harbaugh would have greater confidence in Smith.
"You don't have many 20-point comebacks as a quarterback," Harbaugh said. "It was a great confidence builder for our football team, for our quarterback."
Players touted the team chemistry aspect as a reason for their improbable 3-1 start, a chemistry that apparently got better with a week spent practicing in Youngstown, Ohio, between wins over the Bengals and Eagles.
Offensive and defensive players mixed more often with the week spent at a hotel. This is something dear to Harbaugh.
During training camp he paired roommates from different areas of the team and in the locker room, players share lockers randomly, instead of with their position group members.
The 49ers actually got a start on knowing one another before Harbaugh fully took control of the team. Several players worked out together at San Jose State, which is just south of the team's practice facility in Santa Clara, during the lockout. There, offensive and defensive players would work out and then share a meal afterwards.
Smith, who was a constant presence at San Jose State and organized the workouts, questioned whether getting to know his teammates would benefit the team as a whole when he was asked about it before training camp.
Now, he might have an answer.
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