Game blog: Eagles 38, 49ers 24
***** ***** ***** When's the last time you saw 292-pound defensive tackle rumble 98 yards for a touchdown? Well, the Philadelphia Eagles have never seen it happen. Not have many other teams. To punctuate the complete unraveling of the afternoon for the 49ers, the Eagles turned a first-and-goal situation from the 1-yard line for the 49ers into six quick points the other way midway through the third quarter. The 49ers determinedly took two shots at the goal line with Frank Gore, but each time he was stopped short of paydirt. On third down, he was stuffed again, but this time safety Brian Dawkins put a helmet in his gut and popped the ball loose - Gore's third fumble in as many games, with two of them coming near the opponent's goal line. This one was much more costly. Philly defensive tackle Mike Patterson picked up the ball in the scrum, then started chugging up field with it after the play appeared over. But a whistle never had blown, and Patterson paddled 98 yards to the opposite end zone as San Francisco players stood around. Only quarterback Alex Smith was in his way, and Smith got convoyed by Philadelphia blockers before missing his opportunity to get in front of Patterson at about the San Francisco 10-yard line. It was the longest fumble return in Eagles history, and turned what was on the verge of becoming a 24-10 game into a 31-3 runaway. Talk about a sudden turn of events. ***** ***** ***** Instead of rolling over and allowing the Eagles to pile it on, however, the 49ers struck right back on their next possession, and they didn't wait long to do it. On the next play from scrimmage, quarterback Alex Smith wound up and delivered a long bomb downfield to receiver Bryan Gilmore, who had slipped behind the Philadelphia defense. Gilmore turned it into a 75-yard catch and run down to the 1-yard line, which drew groans from San Francisco fans who had just seen what happened the last time the 49ers tried to punch it in from the 1. But on his first play in place of Gore, who injured an abdominal muscle when stuck by Dawkins on his fumble, rookie Michael Robinson ploughed in from the 1. Robinson had another 1-yard touchdown plunge to bring the 49ers within 31-17 on the first play of the first fourth quarter. The momentum was short-lived, however, as the Eagles struck quickly with a five-play 80-yard touchdown drive that put the game out of reach. But the Niners kept fighting to the end, and the made the final score look better than their performance actually was when Smith hit Eric Johnson with a 15-yard touchdown reception with six seconds to play. ***** ***** ***** Smith took some horrific hits Sunday, particularly as the game progressed and the Eagles - knowing the 49ers had to pass - came after him relentlessly. But he took the shots and kept coming back for more to finish with career-high totals of 27 completions in 46 attempts for 293 yards. He was sacked three times and lost a fumble - his first turnover in three games this season - but those all came in the second half and were the predictable results of a game that got out of hand. Smith now has 814 yards passing through three games this season, just short of the entire 875-yard total he produced during his dismal rookie season. ***** ***** ***** Gilmore's reception was one of several spectacular, long-distance plays during the afternoon. Nothing could top Patterson's 98-yard rumble to the end zone of course. But there were several other plays that covered big yardage in what for a while in the second half looked like a ping-pong match. The Eagles got the big plays started on the game's first play from scrimmage, when quarterback Donovan McNabb hit Reggie Brown with a 50-yard pass on a flea-flicker. Philadelphia later had a 71-yard touchdown run by running back Brian Westbrook and a 60-yard reception from backup tight end Matt Schobel that led quickly to another Eagles touchdown. Westbrook had a 27-yard reception and Correll Buckhalter added a 26-yard catch-and-run. The 49ers also had a 53-yard bomb from Smith to Antonio Bryant erased by a penalty. ***** ***** ***** The Eagles got the quick-strike early score they wanted to get the momentum on their side, but they needed to resort to a bunch of gadgetry to get it.. On the game's first play from scrimmage, McNabb handed off to lone back Westbrook, who headed straight into the middle of the line before stopping as he got there to turn and flip the ball back to McNabb. The play sucked in safety Tony Parrish, just as it was designed to do. And the Eagles guessed right that the 49ers would be in a coverage where Parrish was supposed to be guarding the deep half of his side of the field. Left cornerback Shawntae Spencer released receiver Reggie Brown on the play, and Brown streaked free down the left side, where McNabb had him wide open. Brown would have scored easily on the play, but he got turned around trying to catch the pass, giving Parrish and Spencer time to catch up to him after a 50-yard gain. No matter. Facing third-and-goal after the San Francisco defense momentarily stiffened, the Eagles got cute again, rolling McNabb to the right before he abruptly stopped and dished a shovel pass into the hands of Westbrook. The play was wide open as the Niners bit on McNabb's motion and they got caught with nobody in the middle, and Westbrook scooted into the end zone untouched from four yards out. ***** ***** ***** But Philly certainly didn't need to rely on any deception or trickery as the game wore on. You can't make a mistake against these Eagles. That's for sure. Especially if you're the 49ers. This Philly team simply has too much power and might, as evidenced by the big play that put the Eagles ahead by 18 points midway through the second period and pointed the game toward a rout. On a simple delayed handoff, Philly's brawnish offensive line cleared a wide hole for Westbrook and he shot through it with no linebackers in view. All Westbrook saw in front of him was Niners safety Mike Adams, and Westbrook certainly knew what to do with him. Westbrook turned toward the left sideline at the Philadelphia 45, with Adams taking a safe angle to bring him down along the sideline. But when Adams met Westbrook at about the San Francisco 37, he was in for a stiff lesson. Make that a stiff arm from Westbrook. Instead of delivering an authoritative blow or pushing Westbrook out of bounds, Adams absorbed the stiff arm that pushed him back on his heels and momentarily knocked him off stride. Westbrook, meanwhile, kept sailing down the sideline with Adams following him to complete a career-long 71-yard touchdown run, the eighth-longest run in Philadelphia franchise history. That was the big play that broke the 49ers' back, which already was getting bent pretty far backward up to that point. ***** ***** ***** The Eagles manhandled the 49ers in the first half like they hadn't been manhandled since, well, the last time they played the Eagles. The Eagles held an overwhelming 171-12 advantage in total yards after one quarter, and were dominating in that area 337-110 at halftime. It looked like the Eagles were well on the way to embarrassing the 49ers statistically like they did last year in Philadelphia, when the Eagles finished with 583 yards of total offense - a franchise record and just one yard short of the most the 49ers had allowed in a game in their 60-yard history. The 49ers gained only 142 total yards in that game, which means they were out-gained by an amazing 441 yards during the 42-3 debacle. Strangely, considering the way Philadelphia continued to assert itself after halftime, the final numbers did not come out looking too bad for the 49ers. The Eagles finished with only a 416-392 edge in total yards this time, getting out-gained 282-79 by the Niners in the second half. Of course, the scoreboard told the real story. ***** ***** ***** Adams, who had played so well in the first two games to establish himself as San Francisco's top safety, had been a sure open-field tackler to this point. But after Philly got the ball back quickly after Westbrook's long run, Adams was looking bad again, missing another open-field tackle, this time on Buckhalter, who had turned up field after taking a screen pass and simply ran right through an arm-tackle attempt by Adams as he cut to the middle. That turned a second-and-10 play into a 26-yard gain, the big play that resulted in a Philly scoring drive that ended with a short David Akers field goal that made it 24-3 at halftime. After the 49ers crept within 31-17 to begin the fourth quarter, Adams got sucked in on a quick out pass to tight end Matt Schobel and was picked on the play by a receiver, allowing Schobel to rumble for a 60-yard gain that led to another quick touchdown that allowed the Eagles to assume total command again at 38-17. On the long play, Schobel was able to tack on extra 25 yards after safety Mark Roman also whiffed at a tackle attempt in the open field. It was not a good day for the secondary, which allowed 296 yards passing - 232 of them coming in the first half as the Eagles went for the throat. San Francisco defenders got their hands on the ball just one time to knock down a Philadelphia pass the entire afternoon, and that came when nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga knocked a pass back in McNabb's face at the line of scrimmage. ***** ***** ***** The most puzzling move by the 49ers was their inability to make a move after a third-down run was stuffed after they reached the Philadelphia 40-yard line in the final minute of the first half. Instead of using one of their final two timeouts remaining to talk it over, the 49ers allowed their offensive players to wander aimlessly on the field as the clock ticked down before sending the punting unit onto the field. Sure, the Eagles would have had about 45 seconds to go 60 yards if the Niners had called a timeout and then been stopped on fourth down, but when you're trailing 24-3, it was time to have a play ready to get that first down and try to cut into that halftime deficit. Instead, the 49ers looked both weak and unorganized, and it showed a lack of confidence on the part of coach Mike Nolan. ***** ***** ***** On a two-play sequence early in the third quarter, we saw what Smith can do with his feet as a runner in the open field. We also saw how strong the kid is. Facing a second-and-12 deep in San Francisco territory, the Eagles came after Smith again with heavy pressure, and he was dead in the backfield before he could even set up to pass as he was wrapped up by Philadelphia's beefy 294-pound defensive tackle Darwin Walker. But instead of being planted right there for a loss, Smith made Walker ride him as though he were a bronco in the rodeo. Carrying Walker as he twice spun forward before being pulled down, Smith turned a certain loss into a 1-yard gain. Facing 3-and-11 on the next play, Smith dropped back, saw a lane clear in front of him, then took off up the middle for the longest run of his career. After cruising past the first-down marker, Smith turned it toward the left sideline and then, instead of heading out of bounds where he was headed, he turned it up before reaching the sideline to take another yard onto his 22-yard gain. Smith was crushed in a sandwich tackle by two Philly defenders, but he got up no worse for wear on the play that finally got San Francisco's offense moving to get its goose egg off the scoreboard. But next time, Alex, slide. Or go out of bounds. The last thing San Francisco's franchise quarterback needs to be doing is tackling on tacklers after lengthy gains. Of course, Smith isn't listening. There were at least two other times in the game where Smith took extra hits instead of avoiding them when he turned up field. On a few other plays, he also showed good strength while managing to remain upright and escape defenders. He finished with a career-high 39 yards rushing on six carries. ***** ***** *****
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