49ers-Panthers matchup No. 1: Frank Gore vs. Luke Kuechly
In Week 10, Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly had 11 tackles while Frank Gore had 103 total yards (82 rush, 21 receiving). (AP)
Editor's note: This is the final part in a series that spotlights four 49ers-Panthers matchups to watch Sunday, 10 a.m., in Charlotte, N.C.
49ers RB Frank Gore vs. Panthers LB Luke Kuechly
[RELATED: Matchup No. 2: Staley vs. Hardy]
Tale of the tape
Gore (21): 5 foot 9, 217 pounds, ninth season, Miami (Fla.)
Kuechly (59): 6 foot 3, 235 pounds, second season, Boston College
Nobody in the NFL has recorded more tackles than Carolina middle linebacker Luke Kuechly since he entered the league last season.
And 49ers running back Frank Gore will be in his sights on Sunday in the divisional round of the NFC playoffs.
“He’s a patient runner and he hits his spots,” Kuechly said of Gore. “That makes him tricky. He’s not just going to go in there when there’s nothing. He’s going to wait for his time. He’s going to pop into a little crease and pop out the other side.”
[RELATED: Matchup No. 3: Reid vs. Newton]
Gore had some room to run when the 49ers faced the Panthers in Week 10 of the season. Gore rushed for a game-high 82 yards on 16 attempts. But he was stopped on two short-yardage third-down runs in the first quarter. The 49ers settled for field goals after both failed plays in a 10-9 loss at Candlestick Park.
"They came into our house and took it from us," Gore said. "Now it's a playoff game, so we want to go to the next level. (We’re) both physical teams. We're going to be ready for a test Sunday. Get the job done."
And Gore’s biggest test will come in his one-on-one battles against Kuechly, who joined 49ers inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman on the Associated Press All-Pro first team. Linebacker Patrick Willis did not make the first or second team for the first time in his seven-year career.
And Gore certainly expressed his opinion that Kuechly was deserving of the lofty honor.
“He’s a beast,” Gore said. “I compare him with our guys. He’s a top guy at his position, too. I respect him. Fast. Read. Get to the ball. He’s Fast. Fast. Big. Fast. He’s got it all. I’ll be ready for him on Sunday.”
And Kuechly will be ready for Gore, too.
[RELATED: Matchup No. 4: Crabtree vs. Munnerlyn]
Gore was chosen to the Pro Bowl team for the fifth time in his career. He rushed for 1,128 yards and nine touchdowns during the regular season. But Gore does not need to have the football in his hands to be a huge factor in a game, as he demonstrated against the Green Bay Packers last week.
Gore, a master in blitz pickup, blocked pass-rushing defensive back Jarrett Bush to enable quarterback Colin Kaepernick to get outside and gain 11 yards on a scramble on a third-down play to set up the winning touchdown.
Panthers inside linebacker Thomas Davis recorded four sacks on the season and Kuechly added two. Any players the Panthers send on a blitz will likely have to contend with Gore.
“He’ll hit you, that’s for sure,” Kuechly said.