Your eyes do not deceive you Niner fans, the 49ers are off to a 3-1 start winning a statement game against Eagles. After the Eagles kicked a field goal to go up 23-3 I thought to myself, ‘The 49ers need to score three touchdowns in one and a half quarters to win the game, and they have not scored any touchdowns yet.’ It seemed impossible given the way the offense had been playing, but 49ers players didn’t get down on themselves but sucked it up, forgetting about how they played previously in the game. Everyone on the offense gets credit for the three touchdowns and the comeback win. The offensive line finally started blocking and stopped committing penalties, Alex Smith looked poised on the three scoring drives that brought them back and Frank Gore showed that even with a hurt ankle he cannot be slowed down and returned to his old form with 127 rushing yards.
The win against the Eagles in one of the most hostile stadiums in the NFL is the biggest win for the 49ers since they pulled off a similar comeback win over the Giants in the 2003 playoffs. The 49ers beat the Eagles/Dream Team/the NFL’s version of the Miami Heat winning their first back-to-back road games on the East coast since 2001. The win gives the 49ers a two-game lead in the NFC West and the confidence of contenders and that they can beat anybody. Let’s hand out some Game Gold Nuggets.
= VERY GOOD
Forgetting how bad the offense played in the first-half is easier to do with how they played in the second-half and pulling off the comeback victory. Still, it is an area of concern the offense cannot put together a full game of production and scoring. Alex Smith started the second-half with a bang throwing a 26-yard pass to WR Joshua Morgan. That series ended with a block field goal by the Eagles but the Smith’s confidence was growing as he went 9-for-9 for 179 passing yards and two touchdowns to bring the 49ers within a touchdown and extra point of winning the game. Smith engineered all three scoring drives with poise and precision, something we have not seen much of this season. Smith now has back-to-back comeback wins on the road and the confidence a starting quarterback should have.
Rookie RB Kendall Hunter started in place of Frank Gore but on the fourth play of the game Gore came in for a run and broke for 40 yards. Gore was eased into the game as he and Hunter shared the workload of carries during the game. Gore finished the game with 127 rushing yards and the game-winning touchdown.
The offensive line played its best game of the season plowing running lanes for Gore and Hunter who had a combined 239 total yards and pass protected for Smith who had a perfect QB rating of 158.3, 291 passing yards and two touchdown passes.
The fact that the Eagles had 513 yards of offense but only 23 points to show for it is a testament of how well the defense played. The defense was playing as bad as the offense in the first-half giving up 276 total yards and two touchdowns to QB Michael Vick. Vick destroyed the 49ers secondary for 416 passing yards and 23 points but the defense held their ground in the second-half allowing only a field goal scored against them. The 49ers run defense played at its best allowing only 18 rushing yards for RB LeSean McCoy. The Eagles offense could not figure out how to run the football against the 49ers and resorted to mainly passing in the second-half.
LB NaVarro Bowman makes the 49ers defense look like they have two Patrick Willis’ in the middle of the field goal. Bowman shined once again with six tackles, two of which were for a loss. Outside LB Aldon Smith was used more in this game than the previous three and he recorded his first sack of his career. The star on defense for the 49ers, and for me the MVP of the game, was DE Justin Smith. Smith’s run down of WR Jeremy Maclin from to behind to strip the football and give the possession back to the 49ers with two minutes left in the game will go down as the play of the season. Smith and his 285 pound frame running down the speedy Maclin from behind will never get out of my head and makes me smile every time I think of it. The veteran is showing he is not slowing down after 11 seasons in the NFL.
Normally the special teams are automatic and given how well the offense and defense played you not expect a bad performance from the whole unit. Kicker David Akers missed two field goals, 44-yards and 45-yards, with one of the kicks blocked. Punter Andy Lee shanked two punts but did have one punt travel 68 yards. Return man Ted Ginn Jr. could not get anything going with two punt returns for negative of three yards and three kickoff returns totaling 24 yards.
After the win it was reported that Jim Harbaugh delivered a calm, we just need to play a little bit better speech at half-time. It worked as the 49ers offense and defense responded with an emotional and statement win. The offense has only committed three turnovers in four games which is one Harbaugh’s biggest contributions to the team. He has taught the offense to limit turnovers by playing smart and not forcing plays. Harbaugh keeping the team on the East coast so they did not have to travel cross-country two weeks in a row was a smart move. Not only did the players get used to the time-zone but they were the most prepared of the season as they focused on football without the distractions of their personal life’s.
When the offense needed to open up the passing game to shorten the deficit offensive coordinator Greg Roman called the right plays and trusted Alex Smith in the shotgun. It paid off in the end and we might see more passing plays like we saw in the second-half but at the start of the game. Keeping Gore fresh throughout the game with Hunter sharing the rushing duties paid off in the end. Gore was able to come in rested in the fourth quarter and scored the winning touchdown. The Gore/Hunter combo attack should be used every week as it makes the defense account for another offensive player.
With the offensive line struggling in the first three games Harbaugh and Roman had NT Isaac Sopoaga blocking as the third running back in the backfield on plenty of rushing plays. The strategy worked and did not slow Sopoaga down on defense.
Defensive coordinator Vic Fanio brought the pressure all game to get hits on a banged up Vick. The game plan worked for most of the game but the secondary getting torched for so many passing yards is an issue that needs to be fixed.
NEXT UP: Buccaneers @home
No better time to come back home after winning two straight games on the road and a 3-1 record. The 49ers can extend their winning streak to three games against an on the rise and Buccaneers team. Riding the upset win over the Eagles the prospects look good for a 49ers win and a 4-1 start to the season.