Gore got ground game going and scored winning TD
Here’s how the 49ers fared on Sunday in keys to the game identified by NinersDigest before San Francisco’s huge 24-23 comeback victory over the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field, giving the Niners back-to-back road victories in consecutive weeks for the first time since 2001 and putting them alone in first place atop the NFC West with a 3-1 record at the quarter pole of the season.
Contain LeSean McCoy
YES: Contain him? The 49ers absolutely stuffed McCoy, the NFL’s second-leading rusher entering the game, completely taking the running element that McCoy possesses out of the Philadelphia offense. McCoy gained just 18 yards on nine carries – yes, that’s 18 yards – and the 49ers put the hurt on him with several big hits, two of which left McCoy on the turf momentarily and one that sent him to the sideline to regroup. McCoy did catch six passes, including one for a touchdown on a shovel pass, but 49ers defenders kept McCoy in front of them and those six receptions gained only 34 yards. That’s 52 total yards for one of the NFL’s top multi-threat running backs, and the Eagles practically abandoned their second-ranked rushing attack because of what the 49ers were doing to McCoy when he tried to run the ball at them.
David Akers vs. Alex Henery
YES: This was by far the usually dependable Akers’ worst game as a 49er, since he missed a 44-yard field-goal attempt early – his first miss after making seven consecutive field goals to begin his career in a San Francisco uniform – and also had a 45-yard attempt blocked in the third quarter. Akers also was out-scored by Henery 11-6. Akers did have three touchbacks, and the Eagles got nothing from their kick-return units. And in the end, when all the Eagles needed was a short field goal to probably put the game out of reach in the fourth quarter, Henery choked on gimme attempts from 39 and 33 yards, sending both wide right. Do you think Akers would have missed those kicks if he were still in a Philly uniform, as he was the past 12 seasons until the Eagles dumped him in favor of rookie Henery? No way.
Hit Vick and get in his head
NO: The 49ers did a decent job of hitting Vick, but they did a poor job of holding on to him, and they never got in his head despite pressuring him throughout the game. Vick was sacked twice and hit four times, but he shredded the San Francisco defense for a career-high 416 yards passing, and he also pulled the ball in to rush for 75 yards on eight carries. Carlos Rogers did get the jump on a Vick pass to make a big interception deep in San Francisco territory, but the 49ers never came close to stopping Vick, who had just completed a pass that put the Eagles into range for a possible game-winning field goal before teammate Jeremy Maclin fumbled the ball away at the finish of the play.
Get ground game going
YES: Make that an emphatic YES. Kendall Hunter went over the left side for seven yards on San Francisco’s first offensive play, and Frank Gore ripped off a 40-yard gain on his first carry three plays later. The Niners almost made a fatal error by not continuing to pound the football early when it was still an even game, but when they got back to running it in the fourth quarter after getting back in the game, Gore and Hunter produced marvelously behind some excellent blocking. Gore finished with 127 yards on 15 carries, his 25th career 100-yard game, and it was vintage Gore bursting through the middle to pick up first downs and run out the clock at the end. Hunter also had some big runs, and the two backs combined for 165 yards rushing – just 44 fewer than the 49ers had rushed for as a team in their first three games.
Jason Kelce vs. Isaac Sopoaga
YES: Philadelphia center Kelce had a nice seal block on nose tackle Sopoaga on Ronnie Brown’s 15-yard run in the first half, but this battle belonged to Sopoaga the rest of game as he plugged the middle and forced the Eagles to abandon their inside running game. Kelce rarely got any push off the ball against Sopoaga, and the Eagles finished with 33 total yards rushing from their running backs. Sopoaga also jammed the middle on the goal-line play when Brown fumbled away the ball after Philadelphia had driven to the San Francisco 1-yard line.
Keep Alex upright
YES: Left end Jason Babin sacked Niners quarterback Alex Smith three times, conspicuously beating right tackle Anthony Davis around the edge a few times, but those were the only three times Smith was hit during the day with the ball in his hands. Considering the circumstances – going against a defense that ranked second in the NFL in sacks – this might have been the best performance of the year for San Francisco in pass protection. Down by 20 points in the second half, and with the Eagles peeling their ears back, Smith was still given enough time to make plays and deliver one of the best comeback wins and finest performances of his career. With the heat on, Smith was sacked only once in the second half while completing 13 of 17 passes for 201 yards and two touchdowns after halftime.
49ers wideouts vs. Philadelphia cornerbacks
YES: After being shut down and taken away in the first half, when San Francisco wideouts had just three receptions for 29 yards, San Francisco’s young wide receivers showed some growth in the second half against the NFL’s best and were instrumental in the Niners’ big comeback. Michael Crabtree had a 38-yard reception to jump-start San Francisco’s second touchdown drive and he finished with team-high totals of five receptions for 68 yards. Josh Morgan – invisible in the first half – had three catches for 65 yards in the second half, torching Asante Samuel on a 30-yard touchdown reception that began a run of 21 consecutive points to end the game by the 49ers after they trailed 23-3 midway through the third quarter.
Limit big plays
NO: The Eagles went for the big play all day and they hit the big play all day. Philadelphia finished with nine plays – count ’em – of more than 19 yards, ripping off huge chunks of field with plays of 24, 27, 29, 45 and 61 yards. The Niners allowed just one play of 20 or more yards in the fourth quarter to slow down the Eagles, but Philadelphia still finished with 513 yards of total offense, and they did it by hitting the big play over and over again.