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Have we seen the last of NFL iron man Frank Gore?

Jason Owens
·3-min read

Frank Gore has been ruled out for Sunday’s season finale against the New England Patriots.

The New York Jets running back suffered a bruised lung in Sunday’s win over the Cleveland Browns and won’t suit up for Week 17. Head coach Adam Gase announced the news on Monday.

Does that mean the NFL has seen the last of its running back iron man? If so, he’ll retire on a remarkable statistical note to punctuate his exceptional career as the game’s most resilient runner.

Gore’s remarkable statistical accomplishment

With his final carry against the Browns, Gore reached 48 yards on the day and a career tally of 16,000 rushing yards — on the nose. That’s an average of 1,000 rushing yards per season.

Not only would the total go down as the third most in NFL history — only Emmitt Smith (18,355) and Walter Payton (16,726) have more — it would make for a satisfyingly clean entry into the NFL record books.

Gore, 37, hasn’t yet decided if he plans to give it another go in 2021. If he doesn’t, he’ll end his career in unfamiliar territory — ruled out with injury. In a sport that sees the best of its running backs often decline around 25 years old, Gore’s most lasting legacy is his durability.

Running back Frank Gore #21 of the New York Jets runs with the ball for a first down in the first quarter against the the Buffalo Bills at MetLife Stadium on October 25, 2020 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Frank Gore hasn't yet made a decision on 2021. (Elsa/Getty Images)

Gore’s endurance, by the numbers

Over the course of his 16-year career, Gore has never missed more than five games in a single season. Even that 11-game effort with the San Francisco 49ers in 2010 was an anomaly. He’s played in at least 14 games of the 16-game NFL schedule in every other season of his career.

And those weren’t token appearances. Gore has maintained a career rushing average of 4.3 yards per carry across those 16 seasons. He averaged 4.6 yards per carry as recently as 2018 with the Miami Dolphins. He has nine 1,000-yard seasons on his resume and has never logged a season tally less than 599 yards.

Will Gore return in 2021?

While he’s maintained his role as a lead back, his averages have dropped to 3.6 and 3.5 yards per carry over his last two seasons with the Buffalo Bills and Jets, respectively. He’ll be a free agent this offseason and spoke candidly recently about the realities of carrying a football at 38 years old.

“You just never know,” Gore said, per the Associated Press. “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. It’s tough because I don’t know about next year.”

That’s certainly not a closed door on playing next season. But he’s alluded before to 2020 possibly being his last season.

“We’ve got to get one,” Gore said in November as the Jets remained winless. “You don’t want to go 0-16, especially this might be my last year. I can’t go out like that.”

Fittingly, it was Gore who sealed the Jets’ stunning Week 15 win over the Los Angeles Rams that dropped the zero from their column.

With the Jets holding a 23-20 lead in the game’s final four minutes, New York gave the ball to Gore on five straight plays to kill the clock, allowing quarterback Sam Darnold to kneel in victory formation on the game’s final three snaps.

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