TAMPA — They call 49ers running back Frank Gore the "Inconvenient Truth."
NFL Network's Rich Eisen coined the nickname, a play on the title of Al Gore's film on global warming, in 2008.
But it also has been a fitting description for the unenviable task defenses have in stopping Gore, 30, a punishing running back who continues to produce at an age many begin to decline.
Gore enters Sunday's matchup with the Bucs just 69 yards shy of the seventh 1,000-yard season of his nine-year career. Since 2006, San Francisco's all-time leading rusher has the league's most all-purpose yards (11,797). Bucs cornerback Darrelle Revis labels Gore "one of the top two, top three backs in the league."
"He's got the heart of a lion, heart of a champion," 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. "He competes like a maniac, takes care of himself. He's kind of a mystical man, too. I say that because he's got a connection, spiritual connection that not everybody has. He just sees things; very insightful."
Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said while the 49ers have many stars on offense, from quarterback Colin Kaepernick to tight end Vernon Davis to receiver Anquan Boldin, the focal point will be Gore.
"They can say he's getting old all they want. He can still run the ball the same," McCoy said. "If we can slow that guy down, then we can start worrying about everybody else. It's not to downplay anybody else because they have a great offense. But that guy, he makes things run."
Gore, a 5-foot-9, 217-pound former University of Miami star, isn't the biggest or fastest back in the league. But Bucs coach Greg Schiano sensed Gore was something special when he recruited the Coral Gables High star about 15 years ago when Schiano was an assistant at Miami.
"He's an incredibly tough-minded individual," Schiano said the four-time Pro Bowl player. "He's going to bring it every down, and he plays with pain and all those things. That's what leads to his longevity. As an athlete, he's got tremendous vision, balance, is very, very explosive. His high school tape was legitimately sick."
The 49ers are a run-first team, ranking sixth in the league with 133 yards per game. Their passing attack averages a league-low 178.3 yards (2.5 fewer than the No. 31 Bucs).
Schiano said Gore runs behind the best offensive line Tampa Bay has faced, defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan pointing out San Francisco uses bigger personnel groupings (two backs and two tight ends) more than anybody they've played. Sheridan also said the 49ers are crafty in their schemes, making defenses move a lot before the snap on designed runs.
"They have a good offense that is going to come in here and just try to maul us," Schiano said.
Gore is a big-play threat, tied for the league lead with nine runs of 20 yards or more this season. That includes the Miami native's 51-yarder that set up the winning field goal in Sunday's 19-17 win over Seattle.
"He's as competitive right now as anybody we're seeing on film from a running back standpoint," Sheridan said of Gore, who has 931 yards and eight touchdowns on 220 carries.
"I guess people might talk about him being up there in age and all that stuff. I don't see any of it. He's running the ball as well as I've seen anybody in the NFL. He's super aggressive with the ball, downhill, can cut, still makes people miss. And he has no problem putting his shoulder down and trying to run through guys. He's tearing it up right now."
For the Bucs, that's certainly an inconvenient truth.
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected]