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Wednesday, October 19, 2011
Mike Sando's MVP Watch

By Mike Sando

Forte
Matt Forte's all-around contributions helped land him on the MVP Watch list for the first time in 2011.
A quarterback-driven NFL will tend to produce a QB-driven MVP Watch list.

Let's not overlook the running backs.

Five earned spots on the list this week, the largest number I can recall in two-plus seasons maintaining MVP Watch. Four appeared one year ago, but none of the four -- Chris Johnson, LaDainian Tomlinson, Arian Foster and Steven Jackson -- appears this time. Perhaps that's just the fleeting nature of the position.

San Francisco's Frank Gore and Chicago's Matt Forte are the running backs charging into consideration with the most momentum in 2011.

Forte has 408 yards rushing over the Bears' past three games. No player over the past five seasons had reached 400 yards over his team's fourth through sixth games. Only five others have done so since 2000. Gore has 393 yards on a modest 50 carries over the same period. His team has increasingly relied on his production while building a 5-1 record, the 49ers' best through six games since 1998.

We discussed last week which 49ers player, Gore or Alex Smith or someone on defense, deserved strongest consideration for MVP honors.

"I would just wait for one more week before I nominate," 4949centennial wrote. "My early candidate is Alex Smith, but I'm not ready to vote on him yet."

I was surprised to see more than twice as much support for Smith than for Gore in our SportsNation polling, and in spite of this, Gore was my choice for inclusion at that time. In my view, the 49ers were doing more to support Smith than the other way around. I moved up Gore from 10th last week to third this week after his 141-yard performance against previously 5-0 Detroit.

Smith played his worst game of the season until tossing the winning touchdown pass. Gore didn't get the ball as frequently as anticipated, but when he did, great things happened. He had two carries longer than 45 yards, and his late-game running helped sustain the winning drive.

With some of the other candidates suffering through down weeks -- Drew Brees and the no-longer-listed Wes Welker come to mind -- there was plenty of room for Gore closer to the top. The Lions' Calvin Johnson even moved up a spot, more by default than through performance, although he did exceed 100 yards receiving against San Francisco.