Alex Smith

Frank Gore’s knee seems OK, but 49ers’ decision to bench him was a great sign

Frank Gore entered yesterday’s game as the most feared player on the San Francisco 49ers after rushing for over 100 yards in five consecutive games; Gore didn’t carry the ball against the New York Giants in the second half after rushing only 6 times for 0 yards, injuring his right knee in the process. Gore, who went into the game nursing a sore ankle, wanted to continue playing, but was forbidden to do so by Tom Rathman.

“I’ll be all right,” Gore said after the game. “I feel I could’ve played, but coach Rathman didn’t want me to play. He didn’t want me out there thinking about my knee.”

The best news for the 49ers is that after undergoing an MRI, it looks like Gore’s knee’s ligaments and cartilage are where they should be and in fair-to-mint condition.

As Gore left the 49ers’ practice facility, he told he felt fine and did not expect to miss any playing time with a bruised right knee. The 49ers return to action Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals at Candlestick Park.

What bodes so well for the 49ers — beyond the fact that they beat a very good team without Gore and that Gore’s injury doesn’t appear serious — is that they made the decision to hold him out in a game like this. The 49ers might be playing with house money to a certain extent with the ridiculous lead they’ve built up in the NFC West, but there’s a certain pressure that comes with playing a team like the Giants, and it’s easy to get caught up in trying to prove to everyone how good the Niners are.

It was a decision that showed intelligence and confidence. Rathman, who was on three 49ers teams that started out at least 7-1 (and one that started 10-0), knew that the long term health of Gore was more important than making a statement. That line of thinking might sound like a no-brainer on Monday, but a big part of the gameplan was built around Gore’s ability to keep the clock moving, break a big run every now and then and protect Alex Smith on passing downs. Granted, the Giants were doing everything they could to stop Gore at the expense of everything else, but star players are sent out to play on minor injuries all the time and Gore probably would’ve welcomed the challenge. It sounds like based on what Gore said that Rathman took it upon himself to keep Gore out of harm’s way and alert the rest of the offensive coaches that Gore was unavailable.

The confidence part comes from a team-wide belief that their rookie running back is good enough to start if needed.

“You just feel like right now that we have a stable of backs,” 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. “We got Frank Gore. We got Kendall Hunter. We got fresh legs in Anthony Dixon. This bodes really well for our football team.”

That’s right, Dixon! Yesterday, the man they call “Boobie” (who averaged 10 carries per contest in the last six games of 2010) rushed twice for 10 yards and was FIRED UP (of course, Boobie is a card-carrying member of #TeamLetsDoitLegGo). In other words, Niners fans can stop mourning the loss of Glen Coffee. I know at least one or two of you out there bought a “COFFEE” jersey and are still hurting. Let it go, jersey regretters. Leg go.

Hunter and Dixon combined to replace Gore, but the Smith was the main story on offense as the 49ers quarterback threw 30 times for the fourth time this season (the other times were against the Bengals, Eagles and Lions), showing that perhaps the 49ers’ coaches aren’t as worried about expanding Smith’s responsibilities as many think.

As we look back on yesterday’s win that’s the way it seems for every active player on the roster — they’re all prepared to handle whatever’s needed. Everyone can catch a pass, throw a block, make a tackle. That’s a must when playing a game where injuries are a constant; something to be survived, not avoided.

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