ATLANTA -- Early in the game, when all looked lost for the 49ers, running back Frank Gore got in Jim Harbaugh's face. It was a heated discussion. Gore did not appear to be asking who had it better than them.
What was the running back telling Harbaugh with such urgency?
"I just let him know I was ready," Gore said. "And he said, 'I can see that.' "
Ready? After enduring more than his share of heartache -- not to mention actual ache -- after being drafted by a lousy team in 2005, Gore was in no mood to come up short of the Super Bowl sticks for a second season in a row.
He asked for the game to be put in his hands. And then he held on tight.
Gore rushed 21 times for 90 yards and scored a pair
The second of Gore's touchdowns, a 9-yarder with 8:23 left in the game, gave the 49ers the lead for good.
It also propelled one of the game's underappreciated players to his first Super Bowl, a journey that has taken eight years, 8,839 regular-season yards and more defenders stacking the box to stop him than he'd care to remember.
"We've had all those years of struggling, struggling and struggling. But we had the right guys in the locker room," he said, giving a shout out to Patrick Willis, Justin Smith, Vernon Davis, Alex Smith and Michael Crabtree. "The list goes on and on. We just stayed together and got the right guys to lead us."
After their rocky start against the Falcons, Gore and the 49ers found their stride midway through the second quarter. As the offensive players suspected, the Falcons' would focus on quarterback Colin Kaepernick on read-option plays, leaving room for Gore to gash the middle.
Gore never broke a biggie -- his longest carry went 11 yards -- but he kept banging his way for steady progress. On the 49ers' first scoring march, for example, he opened the drive with a 9-yarder and a 1-yarder, finally giving the 49ers' a first down with about a minute gone in the second quarter.
The chains were moving. The 49ers looked like themselves again.
"What's the word I'm looking for? It was vintage Frank Gore," offensive coordinator Greg Roman said.
The Falcons led 24-14 in the third quarter, but with the memories of last year's NFC title game loss still fresh, Gore said the 49ers were determined to avoid another letdown. "We knew what we had to do," he said, "and we knew we had guys to lead us."
Gore scored the game's final two touchdowns. His 5-yard touchdown run with 10:47 to play in the third quarter cut it to 24-21. Then he completed the comeback, blasting around the right side of the line and getting a key block from Davis, the tight end, to scoot into the end zone.
Gore did kind of a halfhearted version of the Falcons' famed "Dirty Bird" dance -- he'd had that in mind all week -- but said he can't quite celebrate yet.
After eight years, what's two more weeks?
"We're not done yet," Gore said. "We have one more."