Certain players on the 49ers have historically earned free passes. These passes entitle them to be free of criticism for a certain time. Perhaps this person is a fan favorite, or maybe just a young stud in their prime - either way the player seems to be immune from criticism.

Right now Frank Gore has a firm grip on the free pass.

Let's face it - Gore is just a likeable guy. He embodies that hard work-overcoming obstacles-values family-not too flashy-actually could start on a playoff team thing that many fans adore.

The free pass, though, prevents them from seeing that Gore seems to be playing uninspired football lately.

This is not to say that he is a bad running back. Nor am I contending that we should cut him, start Michael Robinson and promote Thomas Clayton from the practice squad. Gore just seems to have lost that pep in his step.

First, Gore has been missing some obvious cutback lanes in recent weeks. Gore is by no means a cut-back runner but he always seemed to cut back at opportune times behind the line and get down the field. Two weeks ago, however, Gore missed many of those cut back lanes. Matt Maiocco has good breakdown of them here.

Beyond vision, though, Gore just seems to be hitting the holes and going through the motions. Sure Buffalo did some things schematically to stop Gore and the offensive line isn't exactly going to knock people off the ball. The 49ers goal line offense can attest to that.

This is the same line, though, that blocked for Gore when he had successful rushing days. And he was facing a Bills team that currently ranks below the 49ers even AFTER Marshawn Lynch tore up the 49ers for 134 yards.

Finally, of course, the fumbles. Gore is like a roller coaster when it comes to fumbles. He has spats where he seems to be a fumble risk every time he touches the ball. Then he will go 8 weeks without putting a ball on the ground. Against the Bills he fumbled the ball twice, losing one at a critical moment when the 49ers were driving and getting the momentum back. Luckily it didn't cost the 49ers the game.

Maybe this is all interrelated. Perhaps Gore is getting a little down on himself and the result is a general lack of confidence. He isn't hitting the holes like he should, he's missing cutback lanes and he's not securing the ball as he should. Whatever the case may be, he needs to snap out of it for the 49ers to have a chance this weekend against the Jets. The Jets have a formidable run defense and a re strong up the middle. The 49ers don't want to get into a shoot-out with Brett Favre. Not even Steve Young could pull those out.

Gore is still a good running back, even with the issues above. He will still break 1,000 yards, is one of the top players on the 49ers and should be in contention for the Pro Bowl. However, in his current state he is not the elite running back we are used to seeing. The 49ers need Gore at 100% to succeed and right now something seems to be holding Gore back. (Before we go blaming Mike Martz here, realize that on average Gore is getting one less touch per game than he did under Norv Turner. The difference is what Gore did when he got those touches.)

Ultimately, if Gore isn't performing he should be held to the same standards fans hold the rest of the team to. At some point his free pass should expire and we should evaluate him with the same critical eye instead of assuming that he is above analysis because of past achievements.