Niners air it out for stunning comeback win

When the 49ers finally let Alex Smith air it out, he outdid Michael Vick and the Philadelphia Eagles to give the 49ers a huge 24-23 comeback victory Sunday afternoon at Lincoln Financial Field that gave San Francisco back-to-back road victories and a 3-1 record that leaves the Niners running away with the NFC West at the quarter pole of the season.

Chucking their conservative approach in the second half, the 49ers surged back from a 20-point hole to capture road victories in successive weeks for the first time since 2001. The 49ers will head back to the San Francisco Bay Area with a 2-0 record to show for their 10-day Eastern road trip, which included a 13-8 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sept. 25.

"We won, accomplished what we set out to do," 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. "That was our intent when we left 10 days ago, to get our two wins."

The 49ers did it in dramatic fashion after trailing 20-3 at halftime and 23-3 with 9:34 left in the third quarter.

Vick wasn't hampered by his bruised right hand, throwing for a career-high 416 yards and two touchdowns and rushing for 75 yards. But Philly's defense fell apart in the final 30 minutes, and Frank Gore capped a 77-yard drive with a 12-yard TD run with 3 minutes remaining.

Gore rushed for a game-high 127 yards and the 49ers got big plays throughout their offensive unit in the second half, when San Francisco rolled up 289 of its 442 offensive yards while assembling three touchdown drives.

The 49ers scored the final 21 points of the game to shock the reeling Eagles.

"That was as good a win as I can remember being a part of," Harbaugh said. "Really proud of our players. They never flinched. There was never a moment or circumstance that made them nervous in this ball game. They kept fighting, made some great adjustments. Great team victory."

Former Eagles kicker David Akers, who left for San Francisco as a free agent this summer, kicked the decisive extra point. His replacement, rookie Alex Henery, missed from 39 and 33 yards in the final period. Henery earlier in the game had made his first three field-goal attempts.

Philadelphia (1-3) has been outscored 36-0 in the fourth quarter of its last three games, all losses. The team so lauded for its free agency haul after the lockout is in last place in the NFC East.

Meanwhile, the 49ers now have a two-game lead in the the NFC West in Harbaugh's rookie season as coach. After remained in Ohio this past week rather than go back to the West Coast after their win in Cincinnati, the Niners showed lots of staying power in Philly.

San Francisco's comeback began after Akers' field-goal attempt was blocked and Henery soon after made a 32-yarder for a 23-3 lead.

Harbaugh then allowed Smith to look downfield more, and the Niners needed just four plays to go 80 yards, including a 44-yard catch and run by rookie Kendall Hunter, who supplemented Gore perfectly. Joshua Morgan got wide open over the middle for a 30-yard TD.

Then Henery began missing kicks after Vick set him up with big plays. Philadelphia had 13 plays of at least 15 yards, including a 61-yard bomb to DeSean Jackson that was wasted when Henery missed from 39 yards.

Vernon Davis' 9-yard touchdown catch brought the Niners within six points late in the third quarter. When Henery failed from 33 yards, it was the final opening the 49ers needed.

Smith kept the offense moving throughout the second half, completing 13 of 17 passes for 201 yards and two touchdowns after halftime. He finished 21 of 33 for 291 yards – the most the seven-year veteran ever has thrown for in a 49ers victory.

"Alex Smith played a great game – a cold-blooded game from him," Harbaugh said. "It's huge for a quarterback. You don't have many 20-point comebacks as a quarterback. And when you do, that's definitely a character-builder for the football team, for the quarterback, for everybody."

Gore had a 21-yard run on the 77-yard drive that ended with his powerful surge into the end zone. He was complemented by Hunter's 100 yards rushing and receiving.

Jeremy Maclin fumbled with 2:06 left and the Eagles driving for perhaps a winning score after he was run down from behind by San Francisco defensive tackle Justin Smith. Safety Dashon Goldson jumped on the ball for the 49ers, one of three turnovers forced by the Niners.

The frown on Vick's face after one of the best days of his career emphasized how bitter the Eagles' latest loss was.

"We've got to dig deep," Vick said. "It's right there for everybody to see what is taking place, how it's been done, what hasn't been done and what needs to be done."

Vick did about all he could, only to see the Eagles fall apart on defense in the second half. He was at his scrambling best and his one interception was tipped by DeSean Jackson directly to cornerback Carlos Rogers. His bruised right hand, protected by a padded pink glove, didn't slow him a bit.

But it was the 49ers who produced at gut-check time to end a five-game losing streak against the Eagles.

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