He's a little older, a little wiser and he's moving up the record books. He's Frank Gore.
With a vintage collection of tough inside runs, quick bursts to the outside and some hearty stiff arms, Gore powered the 49ers to a 20-10 win over the visiting Cleveland Browns on Sunday. The seven-year veteran carried the ball a season-high 31 times for 134 yards, surpassing 49ers legend Roger Craig to become the second-leading rusher in franchise history.
"It's a blessing to even have my name mentioned besides Roger Craig," Gore said. "Me and Roger have gotten to know each other the past two years and he's been a great man to me."
As Gore rehabbed from his season-ending injury last year, Craig made an effort to call him nearly every day to keep him motivated for the future. Even as Gore crept towards Craig's mark of 7.064 career yards with 49ers, Craig was his biggest supporter.
But it turns out Craig isn't the only predecessor Gore leans on these days.
Former 49er and current running backs coach Tom Rathman has also had an instrumental role in shaping Gore's matured mentality. Whereas Gore used to spend time thinking of trips to the Pro Bowl, now he's thinking about making his maiden voyage to the playoffs.
"Coach Rathman really helped me as a player," Gore said. "He changed me. I want to say thank you to coach Rathman because he changed me a whole lot; Making me an all-around back, making me not be so selfish and I feel just so happy this year."
You'd be hard-pressed to find a better back throughout the month of October than Gore.
In his past four contests, Gore has eclipsed 125 yards and scored a touchdown each time. For his career, Gore now has 7,089 yards, trailing only Joe "The Jet" Perry (7,344 yards) for the top mark in franchise history.
Once again, the 49ers defense made big plays and were able to turn them into quick points. On just the second play from scrimmage, linebacker Ahmad Brooks lost his helmet but it didn't stop him from sacking Browns quarterback Colt McCoy and forcing a fumble. Isaac Sopoaga picked up the ball at the Cleveland 20-yard line, giving the 49ers a short field to play with.
Four plays later, Gore punched it in from four yards out, shedding tacklers as he crossed the goal line to give the 49ers an early 7-0 lead. Gore almost had another 7-yard score in the second quarter, but the initial ruling of a touchdown was waved off after replay officials deemed his elbow touched the ground before he reached the end zone.
While a younger Gore may have patted himself on the back following another stellar contest, he was patting the proverbial backs of his offensive linemen on Sunday. Using a combination of creative play-calling by offensive coordinator Greg Roman and top-notch execution by his linemen, Gore had some gaping holes to run though all afternoon.
"Anytime you have a back there like Frank, it's always a plus," 49ers center Jonathan Goodwin said. "He's a special back, one that we want to protect and keep opening holes up for."
Though Joe Staley received plenty of attention for the extra mileage he put on during Sunday's game – he caught a 17-yard pass in the first quarter – he was hardly the only 49ers linemen on the move. Left guard Mike Iupati was frequently pulling across the formation to pave the way for Gore, another staple of Roman's creative and often deceptive system.
Asked if he likes to be so active with his feet, Iupati simply said, "Heck yeah."
But Gore didn't stop the praise there, as he also made sure to thank his receivers and tight ends for holding the blocks downfield, calling them the most physical group in the league.
"We take pride in everything we do here," tight end Vernon Davis said.
Whatever doubts surrounding the 49ers rushing offense through the first three weeks of the season have since been erased. Behind Gore's recent output, the 49ers have become a top-10 rushing offense in the NFL. Above all, they're 6-1 and poised to make a postseason run for the first time in Gore's six-plus year career.
"I just want to keep it going," Gore said.