When LaMichael James was finally brought down after a 41 yard kickoff return, the San Francisco 49ers were in business. With the score tied at 20-20 and 25 seconds remaining, the Niners started the game's final drive at their own 36 yard line and were just a few plays away from a field goal opportunity. Two completions and a field goal later, San Francisco came away with a 23-20 victory over the Arizona Cardinals after nearly losing a game they once led 17-0.

If this scenario sounds familiar, it's because it should. James displayed similar big play ability in the return game back in Week 15 of 2012 when the 49ers had let a 31-3 lead slip away to Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. After the Pats tied the score at 31, James took the ensuing kickoff back 62 yards to the New England 38 yard line. The 49ers scored on the next play and went on to win the game 41-34.

James was a breath of fresh air after he was re-inserted as the team's primary return man in 2013. He averaged 26.8 yards per kick return and 10.9 per punt return. That was a significant improvement from the player he replaced, Kyle Williams. Williams had only averaged 19.1 yards for every kick return and 5.1 on punts. Williams also had 20 fair catches and only returned a punt on 12 of 32 actual opportunities. James had taken punts back on 23 of 35 chances (with 12 fair catches) and, as noted above, more than doubled Williams average in yards per punt return.

Looking at how explosive James can be might make a person wonder, how can a player of his talents be left out of the game plan almost completely on offense?

In his rookie season during 2012, James was not able to make a dent in the lineup until Kendall Hunter went down with an injury. It was at that point that James was inserted into the equation to backup Frank Gore. The rookie runner responded by averaging 5.0 yards per carry (38 attempts for 190 yards) and a touchdown over seven games (regular season and playoffs). He had done enough to think that he had earned a shot to get regular touches the following season.

James' 2013 season did hit a sang early on as he sprained his knee in the team's preseason finale. While he was out, the Niner's offense found itself out of sorts as it tried to rely more on shotgun formations and abandoned it's power running game. The team would eventually return to running in between the tackles in Week 4, after dropping two of it's first three games. The move worked, as the team started to win again behind it's bruising rushing attack.

When James returned, he found himself to be the odd man out. The team seemed to initially prefer Kyle Williams or Perrish Cox to return kicks, possibly because they added value at receiver and cornerback as well (although, as noted above, that was remedied soon there after as James would eventually take over return duties). At running back, James could barely even get on the field as he was either inactive or buried on the depth chart.

James only received 12 carries all season and gained 59 yards (4.9 per carry). He also caught two passes for 16 yards. For his regular and post season career, James has 51 carries for 249 yards. At 4.9 yards per carry, he clearly produces. So why does he not see the field?

San Francisco running backs carried the ball 401 times during the 2013 regular season. Frank Gore had 69 percent of those touches with 276. The next closest was Kendall Hunter with just over 19 percent (78). Anthony Dixon saw seven percent of the carries (28) and was primarily used in short yardage (something James' size does not make him ideal for). James, himself, had 3 percent of the carries (12) but most of those came in garbage time of games. Fullback Bruce Miller had the other seven carries this season.

When you look at the non-Gore carries, there are limited opportunities in the backfield. James, even if mixed in, would probably still only have touched the ball a few times a game even if he did play a regular role. That doesn't mean he can't be used with Gore in certain packages, however. So what about using his skills as a receiver?

The answer to that may be as simple as the 49ers just don't throw to their running backs. Excluding Miller's 25 receptions, Gore, Hunter, Dixon and James only combined for 23 catches all season. So while James may be someone who could excel as a receiver, the 49ers don't seem to want to utilize their backs that way. Even in extended playing time in 2012, James only had three catches.

Looking forward, there doesn't seem to be much opportunity for James to be a part of the offense in 2014 and beyond either. Gore should be back next year (even if it's at a reduced salary) and the selection and grooming of Marcus Lattimore would suggest the 49ers hope he can be healthy enough to eventually be a bell cow, and at least split time with Hunter. It's disappointing to think that a player of James' talents would be in this situation, but that is the reality.

It's up for debate whether James' skill set either doesn't fit San Francisco's system or the team simply does not know how to use him, but what is for sure is that James seems destined to remain in limbo as long as he stays with the 49ers.

It's a curious case.