Niner of the Week

Running back Frank Gore is SFI's Niner of the Week for his performance in the 49ers' 41-10 loss to the Chicago Bears.

Sunday standout: The second-year tailback was a streak of bright light shining through the gloomy darkness that surrounded the 49ers during one of their worst games in recent memory, rushing for a game-high 111 yards on just 12 carries, including a season-best 53-yard burst on the third play of the fourth quarter that took San Francisco down to the Chicago 9-yard line and set up the 49ers' first score on a short Joe Nedney field goal. That was the signature run on an afternoon when Gore made the most of his limited opportunities, also breaking away for an 18-yard run on his second carry of the game to give San Francisco its only first down of the first quarter and its only rushing first down of the first half against Chicago's top-ranked defense. He added a 21-yard run off right tackle midway through the fourth quarter that moved the 49ers down to the Chicago 30-yard line, then caught a pass from Alex Smith on the next play that was fumbled forward and recovered by Justin Smiley at the Chicago 16-yard line. That set up San Francisco's only touchdown, which came on the next play when Smith hooked up with Antonio Bryant on a 16-yard scoring pass.

Season to date: Entering Week 9, Gore ranks third in the NFC and fifth among the NFL's rushing leaders with 631 yards. His 5.1 average per carry is the best among any running back in the league with more than 97 carries. Gore also leads the 49ers with 26 receptions for 211 yards, which ranks him tied for 25th in the NFC and tied for 47th in the NFL in receptions. Gore's 842 yards from scrimmage places him fourth in the NFC and sixth in the NFL in that category. The 215-pound sparkplug already has rushed for 100 yards or more three times in San Francisco's seven games this season, leaving him three away from Garrison's Hearst's team record of six 100-yard games in 1998. Gore set new career highs with 29 carries for 127 yards rushing in Week 2 against St. Louis, then set a new career high with 134 yards rushing three weeks later against Oakland. Gore was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week for his effort against the Raiders, when he had a career-high 172 yards rushing and receiving. He has scored three touchdowns this season, all in San Francisco's first two games, including a 32-yarder for a score that was his longest run this season before busting loose on his 53-yarder against the Bears, which is San Francisco's longest run from scrimmage this season. Gore has set his career high with six receptions twice this season, also setting a career high with 83 yards receiving in the season opener at Arizona, after which Gore was selected as SFI's first Niner of the Week this season.

Need to note: Gore has started each of San Francisco's seven games at tailback this season and is averaging 21 touches rushing and receiving per game. He has averaged 4.4 yards or better per carry rushing in six of San Francisco's seven games and 5.0 or better in four games, including the last three. Gore started one game at tailback for the 49ers last year as a rookie before taking over as San Francisco's No. 1 featured back in August after the team traded away previous starter Kevan Barlow, whom Gore beat out for the lead role during training camp. Despite starting just that one Week 15 game in 2005, Gore passed Barlow in the season's final game to become the first rookie in 15 years to lead the 49ers in rushing with 608 yards. Gore had a career-high 108 yards rushing in the season finale against Houston to push him past Barlow (who finished with 576 yards). Gore's 53-yard run at Chicago was the second-longest of his career to his 72-yard touchdown run against Washington last year, which was the fifth-longest run from scrimmage by a San Francisco rookie.

Gore says: "It's tough losing, and losing like that (against Chicago). I just want to win. Whenever coach calls my name, I'm going to do my best to give my team a good chance to get a ‘W'. Whatever it takes to win, I'm good with that. I'm just working hard, and this is my opportunity to do what I always wanted and show people what I can do. There's a lot of great backs in this league. I have one of the highest (per-carry) averages right now, and I'm just going to try to keep it up. I've just got to keep working. That's always been a big goal, to be among the top backs in this league."

Coach Mike Nolan says: "Frank is a baller. He's all football. He's got great vision, great quickness and he certainly plays very fast. He's a north-south guy. He's tough. He's got good playing speed and he's got a lot of other qualities that make him a good back. Frank wants the ball, but he also understands when the complexion of the game has changed for us like it has the last few weeks. He's real about it. He's not throwing temper tantrum and fits. I think Frank is real when he doesn't get it. He certainly understands he's our guy. I've always said that if you could get him 25 touches a game, he's good. If he gets more than that, it's usually even better."

Looking forward: Gore has been limited to 22 rushing carries in San Francisco's past two games because both games got out of hand early and the 49ers were forced to virtually abandon their running game. Gore should start touching the football more frequently in the coming weeks, particularly after the first half of San Francisco's season ends this Sunday against Minnesota, which features the NFL's second-ranked rushing defense. With several weak rushing defenses ahead on the schedule after Minnesota, Gore - who was tied with St. Louis' Steven Jackson for the NFL rushing lead after Week 5 - figures to have an opportunity to get back near the top of the league's rushing leaders and perhaps even challenge for the 2006 NFL rushing title. Gore currently is on a pace to rush for 1,442 yards, and he already is eyeing Hearst's franchise-record total of 1,570 rushing yards in 1998. He's also on a pace to finish with 59 receptions and 482 yards receiving. The San Francisco offense figures to continue revolving around Gore's rushing and receiving exploits the remainder of the season.

ALSO CONSIDERED: WR Antonio Bryant (team-high five receptions for 58 yards, 16-yard scoring reception for San Francisco's only touchdown, strong down-field blocking); CB Walt Harris (five solo tackles, one pass defensed, one forced fumble)

2006 NOTW LIST: Week 1: RB Frank Gore. Week 2: WR Antonio Bryant. Week 3: QB Alex Smith. Week 4: DE Marques Douglas. Week 5: CB Walt Harris. Week 6: QB Alex Smith. Week 7: No selection (49ers bye week). Week 8: RB Frank Gore.

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