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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Frank Gore’s 16th NFL season is over, one week prematurely. His legendary career could be over, too.
The 37-year-old running back suffered a lung contusion on Sunday and won’t be available for the New York Jets’ season finale against the New England Patriots, according to coach Adam Gase.
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If Gore doesn’t play again, he will end his career with exactly 16,000 rushing yards. He gained four yards on his final carry in the fourth quarter of the Jets’ 23-16 upset of the Cleveland Browns, joining Emmitt Smith and Walter Payton as the only players in NFL history to reach the 16,000-yard plateau.
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Gore has played in 241 games, a record for running backs. His durability is remarkable; this will be only his third missed game in the past 10 years — not bad for someone who had two major knee surgeries in college.
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Gore hasn’t indicated if he wants to play in 2021, saying recently, “You just never know. I’ve got to be real with myself, how teams think about my age. They might not want a 38-year-old running back on the team.”
The Jets (2-13) signed him in May, ostensibly to back up Le’Veon Bell, but that plan changed quickly. Bell was injured in the season opener and after returning from a three-game absence, was released in a mutual decision.
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Gore became the Jets’ workhorse, rushing for 653 yards on 187 carries — a 3.5 average. Gase stuck with Gore instead of using their younger backs, incurring criticism from fans and media.
“I can’t say enough as far as what he’s done by leading by example,” said Gase, who coached Gore in two previous stops.
Gore, the San Francisco 49ers’ all-time leading rusher, became a popular player in the locker room. He met every Wednesday with rookie running back La’Mical Perine, giving him tips as they watched film.
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“Even going 0-13, obviously winless for most of the weeks that we’ve played, he was able to come in and put his head down and go to work,” said quarterback Sam Darnold, 14 years his junior. “He probably doesn’t necessarily think about it, but the young guys, including myself, and all the guys on the team, look at him.
“You want to embody everything he shows on a day-to-day basis. It’s so consistent. That’s why he’s had such a long career. … It’s been awesome. He’s not a rah-rah guy, but you know when he has something to say. People listen. It’s important. He’s a great leader for this team and one of the best ones to ever do it.”
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When the Jets dropped to 0-10, Gore lamented that he “can’t go out” with an 0-16 season. He said he’d be “so happy” to get a win. In the Jets’ first win, a Week 15 upset of the Los Angeles Rams, it was Gore who sealed the victory with two first downs in the waning minutes.
He won’t play for the Jets in Sunday’s season finale against the Patriots at Gillette Stadium.
Chances are, he won’t ever play again for the Jets — or anyone else for that matter.
When the 2-13 Jets conclude their miserable 2020 season Sunday, veteran running back Frank Gore will be back home nursing the bruised lung he suffered in last week’s game against the Browns.
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But the 37-year-old Gore has left his mark with every Jets player he touched this season. He was a gift for the younger players who got a glimpse of what it takes to be a professional athlete.
In a brutal game that chews up and spits out running backs like the current U.S. President burps out tweets, Gore has been the ultimate survivor.
The NFL is an acronym for National Football League as much as it is for “not for long,’’ with the average career lasting 3.3 years. For running backs, that number is even lower — a 2.57-year career expectancy.
Gore has played 16 years, 241 games, run the ball 3,735 times for exactly 16,000 yards with 81 rushing touchdowns.
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Gore’s 48 rushing yards against the Browns last week left him behind only Emmitt Smith (18,355) and Walter Payton (16,726) in career rushing yards.
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If you listen to those whose lives he’s touched, it’s pretty clear that Gore’s greatness stretches well beyond his mind-numbing numbers.
“He’s a great football player, but even a better person,’’ 23-year-old Jets running back Ty Johnson said. “He’s the model for a pro athlete.’’
Guard Greg Van Roten called what Gore has done “incredible,’’ adding, “He does everything physically and mentally to prepare himself … and he’s bringing others along with him. It has been quite an experience to share a locker room with Frank. As O-linemen, we were very aware of that 16,000-yard mark. Every week it was, ‘How many more yards does Frank need? What do we have to get him to?’
“He hit it right on the nose and I couldn’t be happier for him.’’
Indeed, Gore’s final carry of the season — as a Jet and very possibly of his career — went for a 4-yard gain in the fourth quarter against the Browns. Those yards gave him 16,000 for his career.
It’s unclear if that was the play on which he suffered the bruised lung, but Gore didn’t play another down after that.