“We were the better team,” Gore said quietly.
The scoreboard said otherwise, but Gore, like the 49ers in the second half, didn’t back down. He was proud of his teammates and of his contribution: 19 rushes for 110 yards and a touchdown in a 34-31 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
“I just feel like we were the better team,” Gore repeated. “They got away with one today. It’s tough. This is tough.”
Gore’s tough second-half running helped the 49ers get back in the game and nearly sparked a historic comeback. He rushed for 81 yards on eight second-half carries, including an untouched sprint to the right corner of the end zone that cut the deficit to eight late in the third quarter. Gore’s biggest run came with 2:47 remaining and the Ravens desperately holding a 34-29 lead as Colin Kaepernick marched the 49ers down the field.
Gore, who adjusted his game after Kaepernick took over for Alex Smith, took a handoff out of the pistol formation and juked a Ravens defender before bursting through a hole along the left side of the line. Two more cuts took Gore toward the sideline, and after outrunning Ed Reed he bowled his way down to the 7-yard line, a 33-yard gain.
What was Gore, the eight-year veteran who has overcome so much adversity, thinking as the 49ers looked at a first-and-goal situation?
“Game over,” Gore said later. “The Niners are going to win.”
After a short run by LaMichael James, the 49ers came up short on three pass attempts for the game-winner.
James, a rookie, sat two lockers away from Gore in the losing locker room. Sounds from the on-field Ravens celebration echoed toward the locker room, and the 49ers sat under banners that read: “NFC Champions.”
That’s as far as the 49ers would get.
“I have no doubt in my mind,” James said when asked if the 49ers would be back in the Super Bowl. “I have no doubt.”
Gore knows it’s not that easy. He was the last 49ers player to begin dressing after the loss and stood at the corner of the locker room for several minutes, eyes scanning the ceiling and hands clasped behind his head. Coach Jim Harbaugh eventually wandered over, twice patting Gore affectionately on the back.
“He told me he’s proud of me,” Gore said. “He loved the way I fought. I had a great game, but we just didn’t get it done.”
Gore said he wasn’t upset that the ball didn’t come his way after his 33-yard run that nearly clinched a Super Bowl. His face told a different story.
“Every player wants the ball at that big time,” Gore finally admitted. “But our coaches make the decision, and we tried our best to make it happen.”
He said the next step is to keep fighting, to keep pushing to get over the hump. But he knows these chances don’t come often, and the scene on the field served as a reminder. As Gore was whisked along back hallways of the Superdome on a golf cart, two other former University of Miami stars — Ray Lewis and Reed — celebrated a title that adds yet another highlight to their illustrious careers.
Gore knows it could have been him under the confetti. He believes it should have been him.
“It’s tough,” he said again. “When you’re in the dance, you want to get it.”
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