Gore passed Roger Craig to No. 2 on all-time list
Frank Gore received regular calls and encouragement from Roger Craig all offseason as he recovered from a fractured hip. Craig shared training tips, too. When Gore charged up the middle with his signature burst for a 2-yard gain Sunday, he took another step forward in franchise history by moving past Craig into second place on the 49ers career rushing list.
The 49ers also took another big step forward toward their first NFC West championship since 2002 with a 20-10 victory over the Cleveland Browns at Candlestick Parlk.
Gore ran for both 125-plus yards and a touchdown in a fourth straight game, Michael Crabtree made his first TD reception of the season, and San Francisco rolled past the Browns for its fifth consecutive victory.
''It's a blessing to have my name mentioned next to his,'' Gore said. ''This last year, we got to be close. When I got hurt, he called me every day. He was telling me I was going to be all right, to keep working.''
Now, San Francisco's star running back is determined to chase another of Craig's accomplishments: those three Super Bowl rings.
And this is Gore's best chance yet to get there.
He is making his case for a third Pro Bowl while pushing his team toward its first playoff berth in nine years.
''It's fun. We're right here in the middle of it almost at the halfway point,'' defensive end Justin Smith said. ''We've got a decent thing going on. We've got to continue to go. We've got a long grind ahead of us.''
Alex Smith completed 15 of 24 passes for 177 yards for the first-place 49ers (6-1), who haven't lost since falling in overtime to the Cowboys on Sept. 18.
''Not perfect, but beautiful,'' coach Jim Harbaugh said.
No handshake flap this time for Harbaugh, either. And no post-bye letdown for his 49ers - even if it was far from flashy.
This marked Harbaugh's first game since his seconds-long greeting and firm backslap of Lions coach Jim Schwartz following San Francisco's 25-19 comeback win at Detroit two weeks ago.
Harbaugh says he practiced during the bye week by high-fiving with his toddler daughter, Addison, whom he carried out of the stadium Sunday night. Harbaugh was polite to fellow first-year coach Pat Shurmur when they met at midfield.
''It went well,'' Harbaugh said.
The 49ers - who were made aware by Harbaugh during the week that teams were 3-9 after their byes coming into Sunday - are off to their first 6-1 start since 1998 in the days of greats Jerry Rice, Terrell Owens and Steve Young.
For Colt McCoy and the Browns, it's 0-for the Bay Area. They lost two weeks ago in Oakland, then floundered across San Francisco Bay at Candlestick Park.
Cleveland's D'Qwell Jackson committed a costly facemask penalty against Gore that would have stopped San Francisco on third down 2 yards short in the waning minutes. David Akers sealed it with his second field goal of the day, a 26-yarder.
Gore already had 103 yards on 19 carries by halftime, then got the other 7 yards he needed to pass Craig and move up the list with 7,089. Gore wound up with 134 yards on a career-high tying 31 carries, his most rushes since Dec. 31, 2006, against Denver.
San Francisco has a five-game winning streak for the first time since 2001 and wrapped up its first unbeaten October since 1997.
The next big task will be ending an eight-year stretch of frustration in which the team hasn't had a winning season or made the playoffs. The Niners increased their comfortable cushion to four games in the division nicknamed the NFC Worst last year, when Seattle won with a 7-9 record.
''It was an ugly win, but we ain't putting no points on it. This ain't the BCS with the style points you need to be No. 1,'' defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois said.
Harbaugh's big brother, John, helped the sibling cause by rallying to beat Arizona 30-27 earlier Sunday.
The banged-up Browns (3-4) improved on special teams, but went without their top two running backs. Peyton Hillis didn't play for the second straight game because of a hamstring injury and Cleveland then lost Montario Hardesty to a strained right calf in the first half.
McCoy and Co. managed only Phil Dawson's 52-yard field goal on the final play of the first half before Josh Cribbs' 45-yard TD catch with 6:17 to play.
After last week's lackluster 6-3 win over the Seahawks, it didn't get much better for the Browns. They failed to reach the end zone for seven quarters before Cribbs scored.
''Back home, I hope they don't go into a frenzy like the world is going to end,'' Cribbs said.
McCoy accounted for four of Cleveland's five fumbles, one of which was lost and helped set up Gore's early 4-yard TD run.
McCoy - sacked four more times after five last week - lost the ball on the second play from scrimmage after he was stripped by Ahmad Brooks. Isaac Sopoaga recovered at the Cleveland 20.
San Francisco's lopsided first half told the tale far before the clock finally wound down.
First downs: 15-6. Total yards: 253-93. Time of possession: 18:58-11:02. Rushing yards: 145-25.
Crabtree caught a 2-yard pass to put the Niners ahead 17-0 just before halftime. Dashon Goldson made his first interception of 2011 in the end zone in the third quarter.
Left tackle Joe Staley even was in on the action, catching a 17-yard pass from Smith for a first down midway through the first quarter for his first career reception. He jumped up in celebration and signaled the first down by emphatically pointing down field with both hands.
''A little prima donnish for a lineman,'' Smith quipped.