SANTA CLARA -- Of all the 49ers' luminaries and record holders who'll attend Candlestick Park's likely finale, one certainly has the attention of the incoming Atlanta Falcons.
That would be Frank Gore, the 49ers' all-time leading rusher.
"They've got one of the tougher running backs in all the NFL," Falcons coach Mike Smith said Thursday, recalling how Gore helped knock the Falcons out of last season's Super Bowl chase. His 9-yard touchdown run completed the 49ers' comeback in a 28-24 NFC title victory at Atlanta.
Added Smith: "He doesn't have home-run speed, but he's got good speed and runs very physically."
Gore had enough speed to knock the Seattle Seahawks down for good in his previous game at Candlestick Park. His 51-yard run set up a winning field goal in a 19-17 win Dec. 8.
Monday night's rematch between the 49ers (10-4) and Falcons (4-10) is sure to provide a dramatic atmosphere, too. But that will primarily be attributable to the Candlestick farewell festivities.
"I'm happy I had an opportunity to do good things there, and also get a chance to play some playoff games there, too," Gore said Thursday. "You think of the guys who did great things before us, like Jerry Rice, Joe Montana, Steve Young. I'm happy I had an opportunity to play on the same field that they played on."
Home is where Gore has produced best. Of his franchise-record 9,856 rushing yards, 5,347 have come at Candlestick.
Yet another milestone is within reach Monday night. He's 144 yards shy of 10,000 for his career.
To pull off such a season-best output, he'll need Anthony Dixon to thrive as his new lead blocker, a result of Sunday's season-ending scapula fracture to fullback Bruce Miller.
"Anthony Dixon's a similar player," Gore said. "He can catch, he's athletic, and I know he will block, too. A.D. will do a great job."
Dixon is just as confident he can make the jump from third-string tailback. He added fullback duties to his repertoire last year to help secure a roster spot, and although he hasn't been used there much, he's excelled best on special teams with the physical mentality he'll need to block for Gore.
"We talk every day -- in the steam room, in the hot tub, we communicate," Dixon said of him and Gore. "That's how we get on the same page. That's how we go out there and do good work. So we're communicating all the time."
Their first test will come against the league's fourth-worst run defense. The Falcons are allowing 131.4 rushing yards per game, and they've given up 12 rushing touchdowns overall.
"Anthony Dixon will step up and do a great job, as he has been doing in that backup fullback role," coach Jim Harbaugh said. "You never have to worry about AD's effort, and I look forward to watching him compete."
Meanwhile, Gore likes the looks of a 49ers team that's won four straight and can clinch a playoff berth with a victory Monday night, or on Sunday by virtue of an Arizona Cardinals loss at Seattle.
"We're hitting the right stride at the right time," Gore said. "We just want to get in the tournament. You look at it the last two years, it was a wild-card team that won the Super Bowl. So, we just want to get in there and do what we do."
But first, Gore gets one last shot to show what he can do on the Candlestick grass. No matter how helpful the soft sod has been on his surgically repaired knees, Gore said: "You still get hit. I'm happy to say I played in a stadium that a lot of great guys, a lot of Hall of Fame guys played there before me."
Atlanta (4-10) at 49ers (10-4), 5:40 p.m. ESPN, KPIX