A harsh dose of reality for 49ers

It was a swift trip back to harsh reality Sunday for the 49ers. They got a glimpse last week in their season opener how far they have come since last year's disastrous collapse. On Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, a national television audience saw just how very far they still have to go. The Niners were steamrolled 42-3 by the defending NFC champion Eagles, San Francisco's worst loss in the past quarter-century

"They had a great day. We had a poor day," 49ers linebacker Jeff Ulbrich said. "Put those two together, and it's not a pretty picture."

And it wasn't.

The 49ers, coming off their inspiring 28-25 upset of St. Louis in last week's season opener, were hammered relentlessly by the Eagles form start to finish. As Philadelphia poured it on to the point of utter embarrassment, there was little the overwhelmed Niners could do to stop the onslaught.

It began on the third play from scrimmage, when Philly quarterback Donovan McNabb avoided a strong San Francisco rush on third-and-6 and twirled a spiral on the run to former 49er Terrell Owens, who had slipped behind Niners nickel back Mike Adams. Owens caught the ball in stride and cruised into the end zone to complete a sudden and stunning 68-yard touchdown play with just 57 seconds elapsed in the game.

The rout was on.

"We got them in third down and things were looking real good and then we almost get the quarterback sack," Niners coach Mike Nolan said. "And then he gets out and throws a touchdown to T.O. behind coverage and, from then on, for the next 59 minutes, we never really got in a groove of doing much of anything."

As bad as that sounds, it might actually be an understatement.

With quarterback Tim Rattay misfiring (three interceptions, just half of his 26 passes completed, a 21.3 quarterback rating), and San Francisco once again failing to establish a running game (58 yards on 17 carries), the 49ers produced just one first down on their seven first-half possessions, leaving the Philadelphia offense on the field for almost 20 minutes in the first half.

The Eagles knew what to do with it.

Philly's offense rolled to long drives of 60 yards or more on four of its first five possessions to build a 28-0 lead at halftime. The Eagles had already produced a whopping 355 yards of offense at that point, but they hardly slowed down in the final two quarters.

Part of the problem was the 49ers could do nothing to slow them down. Even with McNabb leaving the game after three quarters, the Eagles drilled the San Francisco defense for a franchise-record 583 yards of offense – just one yard fewer than the most the 49ers have allowed in the 60-year history of the franchise.

"I don't know what happened," said a dazed 49ers cornerback Shawntae Spencer. "But now we know where we want to get to and what we've got to do to get there. They're the NFC champs. They're the measuring stick for us – that's where we want to be. We've got a lot of work to do to get there."

A whole lot. The Eagles worked over the Niners through the air with McNabb threading passes effortlessly to his receivers. McNabb showed no signs of the bruised sternum that kept him out of practice earlier in this week and had him questionable for the game, shredding the San Francisco defense for 23 completions in 29 attempts for 342 yards and a career-high five touchdowns passing.

McNabb had four of those touchdown passes in the first 19 minutes – two of them to 49ers nemesis Owens, who also had a 42-yard scoring reception among his five catches and 143 yards receiving.

"It doesn't get any better than that," McNabb said. "We were able to show what kind of football we play out here in Philadelphia."

And as far as his volatile relationship with Owens, that certainly had no effect on their working alliance Sunday.

"We both realize that we need each other out here on the football field," McNabb said.

The San Francisco defense quickly found itself just trying to get off the field against a Philadelphia offense that controlled the ball for almost 38 of the game's 60 minutes.

If McNabb wasn't going to Owens, he was finding tight end L.J. Smith all over the field for nine receptions and 119 yards. He also found receiver Greg Lewis for four receptions, and both Smiths caught a touchdown pass. McNabb also hooked up on a scoring pass with running back Brian Westbrook, who added a ground dimension to the attack with 89 yards rushing on 15 carries.

McNabb's backups – Koy Detmer and Mike McMahon – completed all 10 of their passes in the fourth quarter as Philly quarterbacks combined to complete 33 of 39 passes for 458 yards – the second-most ever allowed by the 49ers in a game.

"They have a lot of offensive weapons, and we had to shut some of them down to be successful," Ulbrich said. "And we didn't come anywhere near doing any of that."

The San Francisco offense was similarly futile, finishing with just 62 yards in the first half and 142 total as the 49ers were outgained by 441 yards.

"There are going to be days like this," said Niners receiver Arnaz Battle, who had four receptions for 44 yards to provide about the only highlight for the 49ers, if you can call it that. "It's a learning experience. Everything just kind of went downhill from the start. But it's just one game."

One ugly, embarrassing, bring-you-back-down-to-earth-and-below game for the shell-shocked 49ers.

"There's really no excuses," Nolan said. "But I'm very confident that we're going to get better and learn from this game. And I hate to say it, but a lot of times you have to go through things like this in order to get better. So I'm very confident that's what will happen from this."

After the way the Niners were trampled Sunday, Nolan might be the only one.

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