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Tuesday, January 24, 2012
On Frank Gore's withdrawal from Pro Bowl

By Mike Sando

Frank Gore's injury withdrawal from the Pro Bowl clears the way for Marshawn Lynch to participate as an alternate. It also amplifies questions about Gore's health late in the season.

Gore carried the ball 311 times in 18 games this season, counting playoffs. That was within one carry of his career high previously. But his 17 receptions were well less than half his previous single-season low since becoming a full-time starter in 2006.

Gore put together a string of five consecutive 100-yard rushing performances ending in Week 9. He finished with zero yards the next week after a hard tackle from the New York Giants' Jason Pierre-Paul left Gore with an apparent right knee injury. He suffered an ankle injury earlier in the season.

Gore never exceeded 89 yards in a game from that point forward. His yards per attempt exceeded 3.7 just once over the final eight regular-season games after five consecutive games between 4.3 and 9.4.

The chart, from Doug Clawson of ESPN Stats & Information, shows Gore's playing time over the course of the season.

I noticed Gore asking out of games following contact a few times, including early in a game at Arizona. Running backs come out on occasion; I have no way to know whether Gore did this more than usual in 2011. The 49ers like to mix up their personnel groups, anyway. Kendall Hunter is a big part of their ground game.

Someone suggested to me via Twitter -- I couldn't immediately find that tweet, unfortunately -- that Gore did not seem to be carrying the ball on back-to-back plays as frequently. I had the same feeling.

Clawson investigated. The results weren't conclusive. Gore had a season-high 11 back-to-back rushes in Week 8. He had seven in Weeks 1 and 11, six in Week 16, five in Week 5 and four in three games (two of them in Week 13 or later).

Gore still managed to rush for 1,211 yards, his highest regular-season total since 2006. His per-carry average spiked during the playoffs. Lots of players withdraw from the Pro Bowl. There should be no panic. But as Gore approaches his 29th birthday in May, about the age when running backs tend to slow, durability questions aren't likely to go away.