SAN FRANCISCO — It happened on a 2-yard run in the second quarter, hardly the type of game-changing play that has defined his career. Nevertheless, it was a milestone. Frank Gore passed Joe Perry as the 49ers' all-time leading rusher, finishing the game with 7,396 yards.
"I actually went up to him after he had passed it and tried to congratulate him," fullback Bruce Miller said. "But he was like, &‘Forget that. Let's get the win.' That's the kind of guy Frank is. He's a team guy, and all he wanted was to win the game and clinch the division. The rushing record came second."
Which is part of what has made Gore such a favorite here. Yes, he has supersonic speed and great vision. He's also a hard-nosed player who pass-blocks well and has never been afraid to run between the tackles despite his 5-foot-9 frame.
"You start talking about some of the injuries he's had," coach Jim Harbaugh said. "Injuries that would end the career of a lesser man — shoulder, knee, hip. What it takes to genetically bounce back from that, mentally to bounce back from that, and the physical rehab to bounce back from that, that's all just strength. That's strong will."
Gore wasn't the only 49er who set a team record Sunday. Kicker David Akers nailed four more field goals, giving him 32 on the season. That broke Jeff Wilkins' mark of 30, set in 1996.
NEXT MAN UP
The strangest sight was seeing inside linebacker Patrick Willis miss a tackle. What came next was worse. Willis, who seemed to catch his heel in the turf as he tried to bring down former 49ers fullback Brit Miller on a short pass, had to be helped off the field with a hamstring injury.
The four-time Pro Bowl selection did not return.
"It's tough because you get used to playing with someone, and the chemistry and things like that, but this is football," fellow linebacker NaVorro Bowman said. " ... In practice, that's why we rotate all three of us, all four of us as a linebacker group. We try to get a good amount of reps because you never know what's going to happen."
With Willis down, Larry Grant stepped into the fray. Grant spent three years with the Rams, but has enjoyed little playing time on defense with the 49ers this year. He tied with Bowman for the team lead with six tackles Sunday, at one point losing his helmet while hammering running back Steven Jackson for no gain.
"Growing up in Hunter's Point and as a 49ers fan, it was a bad thing that I had to leave," Grant said. "But I'm just happy to be back, and I'm blessed. It couldn't be better than to be NFC West champs and going to the playoffs."
Harbaugh did not clarify Willis' status after the game.
BEELINE TO THE BENCH
Rookie linebacker Aldon Smith was all over the field, sacking A.J. Feeley twice, hitting him another time and recovering a fumble at the Rams' 6-yard line in the second quarter. On one of the sacks, he absolutely steamrolled left tackle Adam Goldberg.
What really fired up the Candlestick fans, though, was Smith's reaction to his second sack. Rather than dancing on the field after taking down Feeley on third-and-4, Smith raced to the 49ers bench as fast as he could and, in one swift motion, set his helmet behind the bench and sat down as if pretending he'd never been on the field.