Niners may have found identity at the finish

The 49ers' identity appears to have been forged for next season. Coach Mike Nolan says he sees his team being a power-running team. The 49ers won their final two games of the season, largely behind a defense that rose to the occasion in big spots and the team's running attack.

Rookie Frank Gore gained 108 yards on 25 carries in the 49ers' 20-17 overtime victory over the Texans on Sunday. The 49ers rushed for 399 yards in their last two games of the season.

"The running game is a quarterback's best friend," 49ers quarterback Alex Smith said.

Smith finished with his best two games of his rookie season, mainly because the club started to have some success with its ground attack. Gore finished as the team's leading rusher with 608 yards.

"That was an attitude that coach McCarthy brought to the team," 49ers left tackle Adam Snyder said of offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy.

The 49ers' line was challenged to be more physical, and it came through. The line showed great improvement in the last few weeks of the season, mostly because the group practiced together and played together for the final five games.

When the 49ers were starting center Jeremy Newberry, the offensive line never practiced together because Newberry had to stay off his bad knee during the week. After Newberry went on injured reserve, Eric Heitmann switched from right guard to center.

Rookies Snyder and right guard David Baas entered the lineup, and the offense line started to show steady improvement over the final month.

--- The 49ers finished the season with nine rushing touchdowns, eight passing and six on returns. Tim Rattay, who was benched and subsequently traded after four games, finished with a team-high five touchdown passes.

Smith threw 11 interceptions before throwing the first TD pass of his career. He hooked up with Brandon Lloyd on a 14-yard touchdown pass late in the first half of the season finale.

"It was nice," Smith said. "I was just excited to get us back in the game. They were winning 10-0 at that point. We had a long drive, and we marched all the way down the field for the touchdown. It was obviously nice to get that first touchdown pass."

--- K Joe Nedney converted 26 of 28 field-goal attempts this season. His 92.9 percent success rate was the best in team history, eclipsing the 91.3 mark set by Wade Richey (21 of 23) in 1999.

--- RB Frank Gore became the first rookie to lead the 49ers in rushing since Dexter Carter led the team with 460 yards in 1990. Gore's 608 yards were the highest total for a 49ers rookie since Roger Craig gained 725 yards rushing in 1983.

--- P Andy Lee, who had a league-high 107 punts, finished 20th in the league with a 36.3 net average. Lee averaged 41.6 yards per punt this season.

--- DB Mike Adams, who started games at both safety and cornerback, had two interceptions in the season-final against the Texans. He finished the season with four interceptions, tying Shawntae Spencer for the team lead.

--- DE Bryant Young said he plans to return next season for his 13th NFL season. Young led the team this season with eight of the club's 27 sacks. He is scheduled to make $4.25 million next season, but the 49ers have already said if Young wants to come back, they would love to have him.


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