Niners going away from Gore at goal line?

A disconsolate Frank Gore slumped out of the 49ers' locker room late Monday afternoon, unloading a few cuss words as he departed. The 2nd-year tailback had a reason to be upset. Three lost fumbles in crucial situations have blemished Gore's otherwise outstanding start this season, and now it appears those mistakes will affect how the team plans to use him around the goal line as it moves forward.

The 49ers went to Gore at the goal line three times after reaching the Philadelphia 1-yard line with a first down early in the third quarter during Sunday's 38-24 loss to the Eagles. Gore was stopped cold for no gain on the first two tries, then fumbled on third down when he was stuck by safety Brian Dawkins.

The resulting 98-yard return of the loose football for a touchdown by defensive tackle Mike Patterson was the play that broke the 49ers' back, producing a 14-point swing in a matter of seconds. Instead of getting back in the game at 24-10, the 49ers were getting fitted for the loss column with a 31-3 deficit.

That also was Gore's final play of the game. A workhorse in the San Francisco attack up to that point, Gore suffered an abdominal injury that X-rays late Sunday revealed actually to be bruised ribs.

Gore is listed as questionable to play this week against the Kansas City Chiefs, but coach Mike Nolan said Monday afternoon that it's his expectation Gore will play on Sunday, even if he is limited this week in practice. Gore confirmed Monday that he'll be ready for the Chiefs.

"I'll be able to play," he said. "I'm all right. I'm kind of sore, but I'll be all right."

Gore may physically be all right, but that definitely didn't describe his mood. Frowning and talking at nearly a whisper, a glum Gore obviously was having a difficult time putting his latest fumble behind him.

Gore also lost a fumble deep in San Francisco territory in the season opener that the Arizona Cardinals turned into a touchdown in a game they won by seven points. Gore lost a fumble at the St. Louis 2-yard line in San Francisco's Sept. 17 home opener, deflating San Francisco's momentum after the 49ers had dominated early in the game.

"I'm very upset," Gore said. "I fumbled again, in a critical situation, and I hurt the team. I'm disappointed I hurt our team because we could have been picked up in that game. I just have to come back this week and work hard all this week in practice to do my best to prepare for Kansas City."

When the 49ers begin preparing for Kansas City on Wednesday, Gore could have a new role in goal-line and short-yardage situations. That is, he could be on the bench watching rookie Michael Robinson setting up behind quarterback Alex Smith.

Robinson ran with great power after replacing Gore on Sunday, and showed his mettle in grinding out the tough yards in goal-line situations while scoring twice from the 1-yard line for the first touchdowns of his career.

Nolan suggested that the 49ers may give Robinson the same kind of opportunity in similar situations even when Gore is healthy.

"That could be," Nolan said. "It's something we're discussing right now. It could possibly happen."

Nolan indicated that the 49ers can't necessarily be patient with Gore working out his fumbling problems at the cost of the team being successful.

"I was concerned after the first one, I was concerned after the second, too," Nolan said. "The two on the goal line have me the most concerned because they both happened the same way. He hit the pile, he was spun, he was on his back, and they punched the ball out. That's something that he can't do.

"In the field of play, Frank is a very secure ball carrier, at least he has been. He carries the ball high and tight, as you teach, and he does a good job in the field. Down on the goal line, both times, he's hit, he's turned around, gets on his back, and they punch the ball out, or, he was turning, both times. That's correctable, but it certainly lends its way also to giving another back an opportunity on the goal line and short yardage to carry that ball."

That back is Robinson, who may now be worked more into an offense that had seen Gore take virtually every carry in San Francisco's ground attack this season before he was injured.

"One of the things down in there, when you've got to get the tough yards, Michael Robinson is a bigger back," Nolan said. "He could take some of the hits off of Frank, if that were the case. But, it's something right now we're just talking about. You could see that, as he did yesterday, when Frank went out, Michael went in and did a nice job."

When asked how he'd feel about the 49ers going to Robinson in short-yardage situations, Gore responded, "Whatever coach Nolan wants to do, I'm fine with it. All I can do is my job whenever they call my number. That's all I can do. To tell you the truth, things haven't been going my way on the goal line or in short yardage, I guess. (Last week's fumble) happened now, I can't take it away. I can't take it back. I just have to try my best to not keep making the same mistakes that hurt our team. I just have to keep trying harder in practice to better myself in that (situation). That's all I can do right now is keep working to better myself."

While Gore fretted over his fumbling problems Monday, Nolan said it's important that it does not become a mental issue with his young and impressionable featured back.

"That can happen to players," Nolan said. "If you lack confidence, that can happen. But hopefully, it doesn't. I think about a lot of things, so when I use the word ‘concerned,' it means it goes above and beyond, as though I've got to make a change. There are certain things I'm concerned about. The goal line fumbles, I'm concerned about. I've got to go above and beyond. As far as messing with (Gore's) mind in the open field, I wouldn't go there quite yet. I'm not at that concern stage, because that's not where it's happened. I'd be chasing a ghost, so to speak, if I did that. But if it starts to happen, then it becomes a concern."

Make that, it's already a concern. And Robinson may be the remedy to alleviate those worries.


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