Three and Out: Rookies make impact; the 18-play drive
Frank Gore finished the game with 101 yards on 25 carries. (USA TODAY IMAGES)
SAN FRANCISCO – There was little deception and even fewer surprises for the 49ers, as they set out to extend their lead and take some time off the clock.
Offensive coordinator Greg Roman kept calling the play, and the 49ers' offensive line and running back Frank Gore kept delivering.
The 49ers’ landmark 18-play, 89-yard drive chewed up 9 ½ minutes well into the fourth quarter and stood as the knockout punch for the 49ers’ 32-20 victory over the Arizona Cardinals in an NFC West brawl Sunday at Candlestick Park.
Coach Jim Harbaugh summed it up as “grinding some meat,” which is an apt description for a drive that concluded with eight consecutive run plays.
“Playing tough, hardnosed football,” Harbaugh explained. “Grinding out the running game, pounding, pounding the meat, grinding the meat.”
Gore, who finished with 101 yards rushing on 25 carries, gave way to Kendall Hunter, who supplied the final blow with a 6-yard touchdown run on Power 94 to provide the 49ers with a 29-20 lead with 6:35 remaining in the game.
“I’d rather have Kendall in the game when he’s fresh than me when I’m tired,” said Gore, who did all the dirty work on the game-clinching drive.
There were plenty of exhausted players on the field during the longest drive in an NFL game this season.
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick kept the drive alive with third-down conversions to Anquan Boldin and Kyle Williams. Fullback Bruce Miller, who had not carried the ball all season, got the surprise call on a fourth-and-1 run play to keep the drive alive.
“We got some of the top offensive players in the league and fourth and 1, I was expecting Frank to get that carry,” Miller said. “But it was part of the game plan and I was really glad not only that G-Ro (Roman) had the faith to call it on fourth and 1, but that I was able to get that and keep the drive alive.”
Roman showed very little variety with his play-calling on the drive, as the 49ers stuck with a straight-ahead running game. The 49ers had 12 run plays on the drive. Most of them came on a play over right guard Alex Boone in which Miller leads into the hole and left guard Mike Iupati or fill-in Adam Snyder pulled to that side. The 49ers ran the same play five times during the final 11 snaps on the drive.
It just seemed as if they ran it every time.
“We probably ran ‘94 Power’ 12 times in a row,” Miller said. “There’ll be some sore bodies tomorrow.”
Gore had just 20 yards rushing at halftime, but he picked up steam in the second half as the 49ers featured more of a power-running game and fewer misdirection and runs to the edges.
“It’s almost like running into a brick wall over and over and seeing what you can get,” 49ers center Jonathan Goodwin said.
Eventually, that Cardinals defense, which entered the game ranked second in the NFL against the run, got toppled.
“That’s the thing with those early runs,” 49ers left tackle Joe Staley said. “Those 2-yard runs, those body blows he throws, as we keep feeding him, those are going to turn into bigger runs for us.”
Afterward, Gore was sore. But he called it "my type of game." A game that opened with an opening four drives that did not yield a first down ended with the 49ers returning to the basics that have been on display during the team's three-game win streak.
"When I get in the rhythm, I just feel like I can do whatever I want," Gore said. "When my O-linemen are doing their jobs, I'm good. And when my fullback is doing his job, I'm good."
And when the 49ers needed it most on Sunday, Gore and the run-blocking was a whole lot better than merely good.