SANTA CLARA — The 49ers spoke all season about the difficulty of taking Frank Gore off the field due to their star running back's ability to do it all — run, catch and redirect blitzing linebackers.
On Monday night, though, the Niners had no choice but to remove the gritty Gore despite his desire to play with what turned out to be a fractured right hip. Gore was placed on the season-ending injured-reserve list Tuesday after suffering the injury during the first quarter of San Francisco's 27-6 win over the Arizona Cardinals on Monday night.
The hobbled Gore returned to the field — and had two carries — before someone on the Niners sideline confiscated his helmet when he limped back off. Trainer Jeff Ferguson told coach Mike Singletary about the measures taken to prevent Gore from re-entering the game.
"I said, &‘That's a great idea,'" Singletary recalled Tuesday. "That's best thing we can do."
Gore's desire to keep playing symbolized what has made him so valuable to the Niners. A workhorse, he leads the team in receptions (46) and accounted for 38 percent of its offensive yardage prior to Monday night. He ranks fifth in the NFL with 1,305 yards from scrimmage.
"It is unfortunate that we had to place Frank on IR," Singletary said. "He is not only a great football player, but a tremendous leader. He plays with such passion and desire, two traits that will serve him well as he recovers from the injury."
San Francisco hardly missed a beat without Gore on Monday night. Brian Westbrook, who had five carries in the season's first 10 games, emerged from mothballs to gain 136 yards on 23 carries, rookie Anthony Dixon added 52 yards on 14 carries and the Niners amassed 261 rushing yards on 47 carries, figures they hadn't reached since 2006.
But Singletary acknowledged that blueprint will need to be altered as the 49ers (4-7) seek to establish an effective ground game without Gore.
In divvying up carries, he said, they'll likely have to scale back Westbrook's workload. Westbrook's 23 carries Monday marked the fourth-most rushing attempts of his nine-year, 116-game career, which has been marked by a variety of injuries, including two concussions last year with Philadelphia. Westbrook, 31, has never played a full 16-game season and missed 11 games with the Eagles from 2007-09.
"We just have to be careful about how we use him and how much exposure we allow him to see," Singletary said. " ... (We need) to be careful because of the past history with Brian, some of the injuries and things like that. It's smart for us to be careful about how we use him, how often we use him. He's a talented guy, but we want to be smart about that."