Road redemption

They did it. The 49ers finally won a road game Sunday, on their final chance of the season. They did it by overcoming the same kind of maddening mistakes, turnovers, defensive letdowns and mental lapses that plagued them on the road this year and booby-trapped this season of high expectations. And they did on the one-year anniversary of their last victory away from home, against an NFC powerhouse that was playing with homefield playoff advantage at stake.

But amid the hostile and frosty conditions of Philadelphia's Lincoln Financial Field, and the howling of 67,866 Eagles fans looking for the kill, the 49ers never folded. They remained tough and resilient and, behind the last of safety Tony Parrish's several huge plays, finally prevailed in overtime, 31-28, in a game that followed the typical pattern of their roller-coaster season.

There were ups. There were downs. There was a lot of teetering in between. But this time, the Niners could take that long trip back to San Francisco with a satisfying feeling in their guts.

"Finally, a happy plane ride," coach Dennis Erickson said after the Niners snapped a nine-game losing streak in away games. The comeback victory was San Francisco's first on the road since winning 17-14 at Arizona exactly a year ago today.

"We made plays at the end to find a way to win," Erickson continued. "For our situation, where we were at with seven in a row we've lost on the road, and really not having anything to play for - so they say - to come out and play like that, against a hell of a football team, is a credit to the coaches and to our players."

It also was a credit to Parrish, who came up with several game-swaying plays three days after being snubbed for a Pro Bowl berth he most certainly deserved. After recording a forced fumble in the second quarter - which caused receiver Todd Pinkston to fumble through the end zone to take away a Philadelphia touchdown after a 48-yard gain - and two interceptions, Parrish now leads the NFL with nine picks.

His second interception of the day was the biggest.

It came on the first play from scrimmage in overtime, after the Eagles had won the overtime coin toss. Moments before, Philadelphia had forced overtime by driving 65 yards in 10 plays in the final five minutes after the Niners had taken their first lead of the second half by scoring 11 unanswered points in the fourth quarter.

"I saw it coming," Parrish said of Donovan McNabb's first-down pass over the middle. "I was able to break on it and Donovan went ahead and threw it."

Parrish darted in front of Philadelphia receiver Freddie Mitchell, tipped the ball in the air, caught it while on his knees, then got up and broke tackles while returning it 29 yards to the 4-yard line.

Two plays later, Todd Peterson ended this thriller with a 22-yard field goal, his third of the game.

"Talk about a guy that made plays," Erickson said. "Game ball to Tony Parrish. What an effort."

There were a lot of great efforts by the Niners, which helped make up for the usual collection of shoddy efforts by the Niners.

There was quarterback Jeff Garcia, shrugging off an early fumble that set up the Eagles' first touchdown and withstanding withering Philadelphia pressure to throw for 225 yards and two touchdowns.

There was rookie Brandon Lloyd, making big plays at receiver after Terrell Owens had been lost with a broken collarbone late in the second quarter. Lloyd pulled down a tremendous 33-yard touchdown reception and had a leaping catch for an important two-point conversion that put San Francisco ahead 28-21 with 5:03 remaining in regulation.

There was an undermanned San Francisco defense, competing without several starters but hanging tough and making plays to keep the Niners close despite being put in several precarious positions by terrible special teams play. Punter Bill LaFleur again botched a snap hold on a short field-goal attempt in the first quarter - he finally was replaced by Tim Rattay at holder - and he also had a net of just 11 yards on four punts, one of which was returned 81 yards for a touchdown by Brian Westbrook.

And, last but not least, there was Kevan Barlow, breaking away for yardage and keeping San Francisco's offense moving all day with his powerful bursts. Barlow rushed for 154 yards on 30 carries, added 33 yards more receiving, and scored San Francisco's first touchdown on a 15-yard pass from Garcia and the Niners' final touchdown on a one-yard plunge.

"My mentality was just to go in there and try to be physical and run right at them," Barlow said. "We didn't feel like they could stop us on offense."

The 49ers rushed for 209 yards and held a dominating 417-293 advantage in total yards.

And this time, in their third overtime try this season, the Niners finally escaped the road with a victory that, for once, they didn't let slip away.

"We knew we had to get a win on the road," Barlow said. "We wanted to go out there and show a lot of fight, a lot of character, a lot of heart and try to get some momentum going into next week and next season. We weren't going to stop fighting."


Niners Digest Top Stories