Monday, September 29, 2014

Trust Frank

After two consecutive losses, the 49ers came back to Levi's Stadium in fairly desperate straits, needing to right the ship against a Philadelphia Eagles team that was coasting in at 3-0. In spite of the fact that the 49ers had multiple breakdowns on Special Teams and an Interception from Colin Kaepernick that led to three Eagles Touchdowns, the 49ers rallied back from a 21-10 deficit, solved their second half issues and ultimately put forth an inspired goal-line stand to finish out the game and come away with a sorely needed 26-21 victory to even their record at 2-2.

The 49ers won this game primarily behind the effort of Frank Gore, who broke out of an early season slump with 119 rushing yards and also a career-long 55-yard Touchdown reception that gave the 49ers a temporary lead in the 2nd Quarter. In the second half, Gore, who'd voiced his displeasure over a lack of carries in Arizona, gashed the Eagles defense and helped to set up a pair of Phil Dawson Field Goals that would ultimately win the game. For Gore, just another feather in the cap, really. This is the sort of performance he's made a career on. Gore doesn't boast the flash or panache of bigger-name backs in the league, he just pounds the ball consistently, he's done that year after year, and now in his 10th season in the league, he showed he can still have an impact on games. Trust Frank! That's what the 49ers needed to do offensively in order to get over their second half doledrums. The problems they'd had were well-documented, but on Sunday, they were the ones doing the damage, outscoring the Eagles 13-0.

The other reason the 49ers won this game was their defense, still mostly in patchwork mode thanks to the missing names, but Patrick Willis and company still managed to keep the Eagles offense off the scoreboard. The Eagles, by virtue of a few busted plays, had run out to a 21-10 lead, but that wasn't on the defense. The 49ers first drive fell apart after Colin Kaepernick was sacked back at his own 2 yard line. Andy Lee's subsequent punt attempt was blocked in the End Zone when nobody made any particular effort to block Trey Burton, and Brad Smith fell on the ball for an Eagles Touchdown.

Though the 49ers would eventually take a 10-7 lead on Gore's 55-yard TD (a busted play in its own right; Kaepernick had scrambled out to his left before turning and throwing the ball essentially sideways across the field to a wide open Gore, who was able to take the ball to the End Zone virtually untouched), they began to crumble in a particularly bad sequence midway through the second quarter in which they handed the Eagles 14 points without their offense even setting foot on the field. First, Kaepernick, on a 3rd down play, threw a pass that was supposedly intended for Brandon Lloyd, though it seemed more intended for Malcolm Jenkins. Unfortunately, Jenkins plays for the Eagles, and he was able to run his easy interception back for a score. After responding to this with a penalty and an incomplete pass, the 49ers punted the ball back to the Eagles, where the always dangerous Darren Sproles shot down the sideline for another Touchdown that put the Eagles up 11.

At this point, things really looked bad for the 49ers, already struggling, with Kaepernick unable to move the offense and the specter of their 3 second half points in the first 3 games. But after trading punts, the 49ers finally strung a decent drive together shortly before halftime, aided by Gore for one, with Anquan Boldin making a pair of key catches and Michael Crabtree keeping a play alive in spite of his helmet being ripped off his head, and ultimately ending in a Dawson Field Goal to make the halftime score 21-13.

The 49ers finally caught a second half break early in the 3rd Quarter. After punting on their first possession, they forced an Eagles Turnover when Nick Foles hit Zach Ertz for a short gain. But Antoine Bethea punched the ball out of Ertz's hands and directly into the hands of an eagerly waiting Perrish Cox to set the 49ers up in great position. This time, they finally managed to punch the ball into the End Zone courtesy of a brilliant tightrope catch from Stevie Johnson, who reeled in Kaepernick's 11-yard pass for his first score with the 49ers and cut their deficit to 21-20. More importantly, it was a second half Touchdown that seemed to break the ice for the team.

After once again forcing the Eagles into a 3-and-out, the 49ers leaned on Gore to get them down the field and in position for Dawson's 3rd Field Goal of the day to give them back the lead at 23-21. With the lead, the defense, which had been playing well all game, finally started to really give the Eagles offense problems. First, Bethea registered his first Interception with the 49ers, picking off Foles on a deep pass intended for Jeremy Maclin. Later in the 4th Quarter, the 49ers forced another 3-and-out and drove down for Dawson's 4th Field Goal to give them a 26-21 lead.

With time left for one last shot, the Eagles then embarked on what was easily their best drive of the game. The 49ers defense, which had held high-flying Running Back LeSean McCoy and Foles and his galaxy of speedy stars in check, allowed the Eagles to slowly but surely work their way down the field. Not that they made it easy, Ian Williams regsitered a sack on Foles, but eventually, the Eagles worked themselves into position to score a potential winning Touchdown. McCoy couldn't punch it in, though, and with two chances from the 49ers 1 yard line, Foles ended up getting chased around by assorted 49er defenders before throwing the ball away, allowing the 49ers to take over on downs. Though they would have to punt back to the Eagles, the 49ers ended the day when Perrish Cox intercepted Foles on a desperation pass and the 49ers had gutted their way to a win that, to call it much-needed might be an understatement. At 1-2 and trailing 21-10 at home, things probably couldn't have looked much worse. But the 49ers got off the mat and finally started to hit back when it counted, and the result was the kind of win that's been emblematic of the Harbaugh era.

Kaepernick, in spite of another semi-erratic outing, managed to net 218 yards passing and 1 Touchdown, spreading the ball around to Boldin, Crabtree, Johnson and Lloyd with regularity. Derek Carrier again had a solid performance, particularly after Vernon Davis departed with a rather scary-looking back injury. Defensively, Bethea and Cox served as the standouts, each coming up with a pick of Foles and pitching in on the key 3rd Quarter fumble that may have tilted the game in the 49ers favor.

So, the 49ers have snapped their 2-game losing streak and are now back at .500. Next week, they remain at home to play the Kansas City Chiefs, who will be bringing old friend Alex Smith with them in his return to San Francisco.

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