49ers report card

Handing out grades to the 49ers for their performance in a 24-23 comeback road victory over the Philadelphia Eagles while breaking down the positives, negatives and bottom line in every area of the team.

Alex Smith played some of the best football of his career in the second half to lead Niners all the way back from a 20-point deficit with three touchdowns drives. He completed all nine of his passes in the third quarter for 179 yards and two TDs, Smith's best quarter ever. Smith made several nice throws to make plays on the run. He had good feel in pocket to avoid pressure and beat seven-man pressure to connect with Josh Morgan on well-thrown 30-yard TD pass that started San Francisco's comeback. Smith was an outstanding 13 of 17 for 201 yards passing in second half to finish with season-best 112.1 quarterback rating.
Negatives: Smith was off target on several throws and was high with others that were caught throughout first half. He also was rushed into a fumble in the final minutes before halftime, losing the ball before he was even touched deep in San Francisco territory, a turnover that gave Philadelphia a short field that led to a gift touchdown right before the half.
Bottom line: Brilliant second-half performance negates any first-half negatives as Smith produced the greatest comeback victory of his seven-year career with one of his finest overall games.

RUNNING BACKS -- Grade: A-plus
Frank Gore rushed for a season-high 127 yards on 15 carries, had a 40-yard run, converted several third-and-short runs into first downs and sealed the victory by grinding out 26 yards on five carries for two first downs in the final minutes that ran out the clock. Kendall Hunter was an ideal speed complement to Gore's pounding, breaking lose for several big plays – including receptions of 18 and 44 yards, San Francisco's longest offensive play of the season – to finish with 100 yards rushing and receiving. Both backs also had key blocks in pass protection. Gore displayed explosive burst and power on his game-deciding 12-yard TD run. Rookie Bruce Miller's blocking was better in his second career start at fullback, and he also had a 15-yard catch-and-run. This unit rushed for 165 yards and averaged 6.9 yards per pop.
Negatives: Hunter veered the wrong way into middle of field on his 44-yard reception, or else he could have turned play into even bigger yardage and maybe even a 76-yard touchdown.
Bottom line: Difficult to give this tremendous, productive performance anything less than the best grade possible. A unit that had been stymied most of the first three weeks was a difference-maker in this game.

WIDE RECEIVERS -- Grade: A-minus
Michael Crabtree had season-high five receptions for 68 yards, reaching high to make two difficult catches and also beating star cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha with a nifty double-move for a 38-yard gain to jump-start San Francisco's second touchdown drive. Josh Morgan came through with big receptions of 26 and 30 yards, the latter going for a touchdown when Morgan ran a quick slant and weaved untouched through a cavity in the Philadelphia secondary. Crabtree and Morgan both had big blocks to open the left side for Kendall Hunter's 14-yard gain on third-and-7 on San Francisco's game-winning TD drive.
Negatives: Crabtree failed to bring in two catchable passes. Morgan was practically invisible during first half.
Bottom line: Might have been the best performance in 2¼ seasons together as a starting duo for Morgan and Crabtree, who combined for eight receptions for 133 yards, two TDs and several big plays that were key to San Francisco's big comeback.

TIGHT ENDS -- Grade: A-minus
Vernon Davis had a 26-yard reception among his four catches for 45 yards and came through big in the red zone again, getting open and bouncing off defenders during a 9-yard touchdown catch that brought the 49ers within six points. Delanie Walker contributed three receptions. Davis' blocking was outstanding in all phases of game.
Negatives: Walker dropped a pass that was set up as a tight end screen that originally was ruled a fumble before being overturned by replay.
Bottom line: Once again, this unit was a key factor in the San Francisco offense, and this time it got plenty of help elsewhere.

Starting line, practically to a man, was consistently strong in run blocking and just got stronger as the game progressed. LG Mike Iupati had his best game and was a beast in the run game. LT Joe Staley and C Jonathan Goodwin also had their best games, and Staley did a fine job in pass protection in his matchup with Trent Cole. Multiple linemen were driving their Philadelphia counterparts backward – in some cases, several yards backward – during the pivotal fourth quarter. Pass protection by unit was best it has been since season opener, even though QB Alex Smith was sacked three times by Jason Babin.
Negatives: RT Anthony Davis was abused by Babin for two sacks and was twice flagged for tripping with leg whips, San Francisco's only two offensive penalties of the game. Babin raced in untouched for his third sack when Davis blocked down on the play. Goodwin sailed a shotgun snap off Smith's hands that got behind the QB before Smith recovered in time to throw a pass out of bounds and prevent a significant loss.
Bottom line: Best game of season for unit as it awakened in the run game and was 4/5ths solid in pass protection.

Justin Smith's magnificent chase-down/tackle/strip of Jeremy Maclin not only saved the game for the 49ers, but it's also one of the highlight plays of San Francisco's 3-1 start. Unit was dominant against the run again with Philadelphia unable to budge starting wall of Smith, Ray McDonald and Isaac Sopoaga, who again was outstanding stacking up the inside at nose tackle. McDonald timed the snap count to blow past center Jason Kelce into the backfield on a play that resulted in a five-yard loss. He also was in on one sack of quarterback Michael Vick.
Negatives: McDonald had Vick in his grasp for a sack late in the first quarter, but allowed him to slip away and throw a touchdown pass for the game's first score. Reserve Will Tukuafu injured his wrist on special teams and is out for the season after being placed on injured reserve Tuesday.
Bottom line: Smith is a bona fide star, playmaker and disruptive force, McDonald is a comer and Sopoaga is practically an immovable object.

NaVorro Bowman continued his rise to stardom with a standout afternoon that featured six tackles, including two huge open-field stops on third down on playmakers Michael Vick and LeSean McCoy, dropping both players for a loss. Bowman also knocked away a pass and pounced on a fumble near the goal line to prevent the Eagles from scoring. Parys Haralson corralled Ronnie Brown in the backfield to set up that play and also hurried Vick into an interception. Patrick Willis had a solid outing with six tackles and contributed in underneath coverage. Unit got a big boost in pass rush from rookie Aldon Smith, who had a breakout game with four tackles, 1.5 sacks and three hits on Vick. Ahmad Brooks also contributed some impact plays on the edge, tipping a pass and dropping McCoy for a five-yard loss.
Negatives: Brooks twice was called for being offside on Philadelphia's final offensive drive. Unit takes some responsibility for tight end Clay Harbor getting loose for three catches for 55 yards, including a 16-yard TD play for the Eagles' first score.
Bottom line: Another big day with contributions from all by an active, playmaking unit.

SECONDARY -- Grade: D-plus
Carlos Rogers came up with an interception deep in San Francisco territory to thwart an early drive and returned it 27 yards. Dashon Goldson had some crunching hits among his game-high 10 tackles and also broke up a pass. Goldson and Reggie Smith both lit up receiver Jeremy Maclin on separate plays in second half, which could have had some residual effect on Maclin's fumble near end of game, which Goldson recovered. Chris Culliver stepped in with his most extensive playing time and was close several times in coverage while contributing four tackles. Unit also tightened up in coverage when Philadelphia approached red zone.
Negatives: The 49ers allowed 416 yards passing, and while it wasn't all this unit's fault, the secondary bears the brunt of the responsibility. San Francisco DBs were repeatedly beat for big plays by better, faster Philadelphia receivers, and several of them went for huge yardage, including gains of 61, 45, 29, 27 and 24 yards in addition to four other passing plays of 19 or more yards. Tarell Brown and Smith both were beat on 61-yard reception by DeSean Jackson, but Brown made a diving, TD-saving tackle on the play. This unit could have used regular starting strong safety Donte Whitner, who suited up but did not play because of a hip injury.
Bottom line: Unit allowed huge chunks of yardage throughout game, but never allowed Philadelphia to deliver a knockout blow and then came through when needed in fourth quarter.

Coverage units were strong as usual. Punter Andy Lee kept ball away from Eagles' dangerous returners and averaged 49.5 yards on his four punts with an excellent 43.5 net average. He also boomed a 68-yarder. Eagles finished game with minus-3 yards on punt returns. Ted Ginn had a 30-yard kickoff return.
Negatives: David Akers made just one of three field-goal attempts, falling short and wide left on a 44-yarder and having a 45-yarder blocked. King Dunlap split through between Mike Iupati and Chilo Rachal to block that kick as neither San Francisco lineman blocked him. Lee uncharacteristically shanked two punts. Bruce Miller had a holding penalty on first punt return of game. Ted Ginn finished with minus-6 yards to show for two punt returns.
Bottom line: Finally a dropoff here after three outstanding performances by these units to start the season. The two missed FGs hurt the most, but they didn't end up costing the 49ers the game, and Akers ended up kicking the winning PAT.

COACHING -- Grade: A
Outstanding job of keeping 49ers from falling apart after falling behind 20-3 at halftime and 23-3 in third quarter. Stuck with game plan, allowing Niners to rally and wear down Eagles at finish. Exploited Eagles weaknesses after getting back in game. Pitch-left to Hunter on third-and-7 on game-winning TD drive was brilliant call that caught Eagles unprepared. Jim Harbaugh was decisive in making two replay challenges and won both of them.
Negatives: Never really came up with the adjustments necessary to slow down Philadelphia's potent passing game. Had enough time to attempt mounting a drive on final first-half possession after falling behind 20-3 right before halftime.
Bottom line: A signature win for Jim Harbaugh and his crew. They outcoached the Eagles in all phases of the game in the second half with the outcome hanging in the balance, and the 49ers wouldn't have left Philadelphia victorious without that happening.

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