49ers/Eagles: Thumbs up and thumbs down
Thumbs up: For starters, how about defensive tackle Justin Smith chasing down speedburner Jeremy Maclin in fourth-quarter crunch time, catching him from behind, then knocking out the football at the end of a 17-yard reception that had put the Eagles in position for a possible game-winning field goal? If you want to find a play that won the game for the 49ers, point at that one.
Thumbs down: And the 49ers needed a huge, big-effort play like that from their resilient defense after being torched for 513 yards of total offense by the Eagles and quarterback Michael Vick, who was virtually unstoppable through the air while throwing for a career-high 416 yards.
Thumbs up: But the Niners answered with a new awakening of their own West Coast offense, rolling down the field on three touchdown drives in the second half with a diverse mix of run and pass that Philadelphia simply couldn't stop with the game on the line. The 49ers produced 289 yards of total offense in the second half, and who can remember the last time they exploded in that kind of prodigious fashion after halftime?
Thumbs up: And it was quarterback Alex Smith leading the charge in what undoubtedly was one of the finest performances of his seven-year career. Smith was nails in the second half, completing 13 of 17 passes for 201 yards and two TDs after halftime and showing both poise and playmaking ability while doing it. Smith finished 21 of 33 for 291 yards passing – the most yards he ever has thrown for in a 49ers victory.
Thumbs up: Another offensive hero emerged in the second half as Frank Gore got tough when the tough got going. Still nursing a sore ankle, Gore ripped off a 40-yard run on his first carry, looked like the old Gore when scoring the game-winning touchdown on a 12-yard surge into the end zone, then was there at the end when the 49ers needed him to get the tough yards to run out the clock and secure the victory.
Thumbs up: Kendall Hunter almost needs to be mentioned in the same breath as Gore after another impact performance by the rookie running back, who got the first start of his NFL career and came through with several big plays to set the offensive tone for the 49ers while finishing with 38 yards rushing and 62 yards receiving.
Thumbs down: The 49ers were almost helpless against the speed of Philly wideouts DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, who got open all afternoon and finished with a combined 13 receptions for 245 yards.
Thumbs up: But the 49ers kept both of those playmakers out of the end zone while coming up big defensively in the red zone to keep Philadelphia off the scoreboard in the decisive fourth quarter. The Eagles fumbled away a scoring opportunity on the San Francisco 1-yard line in the first half, and the Eagles came up with nothing after reaching the San Francisco 10 on their penultimate fourth-quarter drive.
Thumbs up: Once again, linebacker NaVorro Bowman was a terror on defense, and he played a big role in taking Eagles running back LeSean McCoy out of the game – both on the ground and through the air.
Thumbs up: Vick broke loose for 75 yards on eight scrambles, but the San Francisco defense once again was terrific against the run, limiting Philadelphia running backs to 33 total yards rushing on 12 carries.
Thumbs down: David Akers can't make them all, but you don't expect him to miss two field goals from 45 yards or closer in the same game, particularly with his second miss getting blocked to set up a field goal that put the Eagles ahead 23-3 early midway through the third quarter.
Thumbs up: Finally, a winning performance by the 49ers' beleaguered offensive line. The run blocking was great when the Niners needed to grind it out at the end, and the pass protection did a good job against a defense that was second in the NFL in sacks entering the game.
Thumbs down: That said, young right tackle Anthony Davis continues to be a weak link in that line too often for anybody's comfort.
Thumbs up: In his second game back from a knee injury, Dashon Goldson continued to make a difference at free safety, contributing some nice hits among his game-high 10 tackles and playing heads-up football to jump on a fumble near the sidelines and stay in bounds to end Philadelphia's last offensive possession.
Thumbs up: This may have been the best game yet for the pairing of Michael Crabtree and Josh Morgan as San Francisco's starting wide receivers. Both came up with pivotal catches in the second half, including a 38-yard grab by Crabtree and a 30-yard scoring reception by Morgan, and they finished with a combined eight catches for 133 yards while playing heads-up against Philly's collection of Pro Bowl cornerbacks.
Thumbs up: Newcomer Carlos Rogers continues to play like a No. 1 cornerback, coming up with his second interception in as many weeks deep in San Francisco territory and holding up without major damage on his side of the field in coverage.
Thumbs up: Rogers' pick was one of three crucial turnovers forced by the 49ers, who continue to win the weekly takeaway battle, this time 3-1 in a game where it couldn't have mattered much more.
Thumbs up: The 49ers got a breakout performance from first-round draft pick Aldon Smith, who had been quiet in San Francisco's first three games but came through in the fourth with 1.5 sacks, three quarterback hits and four tackles.
Thumbs up: Coach Jim Harbaugh won two more challenges, and the second one came on a great quick decision by the coach who didn't get a good look at Jeremy Maclin's overturned 16-yard reception when it was actually happening, and when it looked from most angles like a good reception.
Thumbs up: Adam Snyder starting at right guard proved to be a definite upgrade over Chilo Rachal, and that's a role Snyder should keep after his solid performance.
Thumbs down: The 49ers allowed the Philadelphia offense nine plays of 19 yards or more, which is way too many. The Eagles skied for 263 yards on those nine plays to help them move up and down the field all afternoon.
Thumbs up: But in the end, it was the 49ers rallying from a 20-point second-half deficit and coming through in the clutch to win back-to-back road games in consecutive weeks for the first time since 2001 and move another game ahead of their three divisional rivals in the NFC West, who all lost by seven points or fewer Sunday. The 49ers are 3-1 and have a two-game lead in the division at the quarter pole of the season after upsetting a huge favorite on the road. It doesn't get much better than that.
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