Gore tied franchise record with 50th TD vs. Miami
The 49ers are undergoing something of a transformation at running back these days. No, nothing has changed with the team’s featured back. Frank Gore remains a stalwart workhorse in the midst of a record-setting season that’s defining him as one of the greatest RBs in franchise history. But the backup situation behind him is taking on a whole new look.
Gore quickly gave credit to rookie LaMichael James for an impressive NFL debut – and for taking some pressure off the three-time Pro Bowler in the process.
''He kept me fresh,'' Gore said. ''It's great.''
Anthony Dixon is doing his part for San Francisco, too. Gore and Dixon each ran for 1-yard touchdowns, and the 49ers' versatile running game showed its depth in Sunday's 27-13 victory against the Miami Dolphins. Gore led the way en route to his sixth career 1,000-yard rushing season and 50th touchdown on the ground.
''I said the first week of the year I feel like we have the best backfield in the league,'' Dixon said. ''We have a lot of talent, we are super deep. I know coach has a hard time trying to figure out what to do with all of us. It's a good problem. We just try to feed off each other.''
James, a second-round draft pick this year out of Oregon, was active for the first time all season Sunday and took advantage with eight carries for 30 yards. James' performance helps the Niners (9-3-1) cope with the devastating, season-ending loss of backup Kendall Hunter to an ankle injury suffered at New Orleans on Nov. 25.
Both Dixon and James play key roles on special teams as well, and now both will become even more important to the 49ers now that the team has suspended veteran running back Brandon Jacobs.
James' production and ability to spell Gore down the stretch will be important for the 49ers as they look to make another run at the Super Bowl after falling short in overtime of the NFC championship game against the Giants last January.
''Kendall was a big part of our team, and LaMichael can do similar stuff as Kendall, and that's good,'' Gore said. ''Happy for him. I saw LaMichael when he first got here. The offense was kind of tough for him. Camp was going kind of tough. He wasn't used to playing in small spaces, but he did a (heckuva) job.''
One potential distraction for this close-knit group is gone.
Jacobs’ short time with San Francisco is all but over after he was suspended Monday for the final three regular-season games. It's doubtful he would rejoin the team for the playoffs.
While the 49ers didn't provide a reason for the suspension, Jacobs had become increasingly vocal via social media during the weekend about his frustration over a lack of playing time. He referenced being ''on this team rotting away.''
He has only played in two games this season, managing 7 yards on five carries. Jacobs spent his first seven NFL seasons with the New York Giants, winning two Super Bowl rings.
Now, the 49ers can move on without having to deal with the disgruntled Jacobs in the locker room – or the sight of the 6-foot-4, 264-pound tailback pounding his fists into the padding of the goal post on game day as his quirky pregame ritual.
After the way he played Sunday, James could get more chances Sunday at New England.
''LaMichael got those touches. Thought he made a real, real good contribution, both in the kick-off return game and offensively,'' Harbaugh said.
Gore certainly likes San Francisco's variety of offensive options as the 49ers head out to face the AFC East-leading Patriots (9-3) in a game that should provide quite the measuring stick for both teams in mid-December.
Not that Gore needs much to go on: His numbers tell the story of his eighth NFL season at age 29. He has 1,035 yards on 211 carries for seven touchdowns, and averages 4.9 yards per carry.
Along with going over 1,000 yards rushing with a 63-yard outing against the Dolphins, Gore matched his mentor, Roger Craig, and late Hall of Famer Joe Perry for the franchise record in rushing touchdowns with 50.
''I always knew Frank was a great running back,'' said quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who led a winning effort in his fourth straight start and fourth ever. ''Being out there on the field and seeing some of the cuts he makes and how he protects in pass protection, I don't think there's another back like him in this league.''
NOTES: Harbaugh didn't yet have an update on the status of DL and core special teams player Demarcus Dobbs, who was carted off the field in the first half Sunday with a right knee injury. ''We'll know more when the MRI comes back. We'll see,'' Harbaugh said. ... First-round draft pick WR A.J. Jenkins also made his NFL debut Sunday. While he didn't have a catch, Harbaugh saw plenty of positives. ''A.J. probably was in there eight or nine snaps and had a real nice block on Frank's draw play that nearly scored,'' Harbaugh said. ''Ran a route, didn't get the ball, but ran right past his man.''