SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – Frank Gore ran circles around Shaun Alexander, and then the San Francisco 49ers’ defense finished off another surprising victory for a long-suffering club that’s finally on the rise.

Gore rushed for a franchise-record 212 yards, and San Francisco’s maligned defense stopped the Seattle Seahawks three times in the final 4 minutes of the 49ers’ third straight victory, 20-14 Sunday.

Alex Smith passed for 163 yards, threw a TD pass and rushed for another score for the 49ers (5-5), who went scoreless in the second half. But they still hung on to snap a six-game losing streak against their NFC West rivals, the defending conference champs.

Arnaz Battle caught a TD pass and Smith rushed for a score as San Francisco jumped to a 20-0 halftime lead. But the Niners’ first three-game winning streak since 2002 wasn’t secure until its defense – which has given up just 30 points in its last 3 games – stopped Seattle’s final three drives with a fourth-down tackle, an interception and the clock running out.

Gore broke Charlie Garner’s team record of 201 yards on a 17-yard romp in the final seconds, but only after he fumbled to give Seattle (6-4) its second last-minute chance.

Seneca Wallace passed for 239 yards and hit Deion Branch and Darrell Jackson for long second-half touchdowns, but he threw three interceptions. And the Seahawks got little boost from having Alexander and Matt Hasselbeck back in uniform.

Alexander, the reigning league MVP who hadn’t played in two months, managed just 37 yards on 17 carries in his first game back from a broken foot. Hasselbeck, who hurt his knee last month, dressed but didn’t play behind Wallace, who threw the interceptions but was mostly solid.

The 49ers first tackled Alexander on fourth down at the 36 with 1:52 left, ending a disorganized drive. But Gore, who fumbled four times in four games earlier in the season, coughed it up on the next play.

Wallace then threw his third interception directly to cornerback Walt Harris. But San Francisco’s Joe Nedney, who had never missed a field goal shorter than 30 yards before blowing two in this game, hooked a 27-yarder with 34 seconds left.

But the Seahawks ran out of time, with Wallace failing to get them over midfield on four plays.

Gore, the second-year pro from Miami whose injury history scared off other teams in last year’s draft, passed the 1,000-yard mark in his breakout season, gashing the Seattle defense for repeated long gains. The Seahawks’ tackling was atrocious, prompting several furious sideline tirades by coach Mike Holmgren.

Battle caught a 9-yard TD pass after Wallace’s second interception, and Smith scored on a 1-yard lunge later in San Francisco’s 17-point second quarter. Running mostly behind linemen Larry Allen and Jonas Jennings, Gore picked up 130 yards in the first half.

Seattle opened the second half with a scoring drive ending in Branch’s 38-yard TD catch. The teams traded punts until Wallace spotted Jackson down the Seattle sideline with 6:40 to play, throwing a 41-yard TD pass to pull Seattle within six points.

At halftime, the 49ers held an official retirement ceremony for receiver Jerry Rice, who signed a one-day contract before the season with the club that was his home for 16 of his 20 record-setting NFL seasons.

AP-ES-11-19-06 1922EST


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