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Road Struggles Continue For 49ers

Posted Dec 20, 2009



Turns out weather wasn’t a factor in the 49ers Sunday road matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles. But four first half turnovers by the visitors certainly were.

The threat of heavy snowstorms pushed the kickoff back to a 1:15 start on the West Coast, but it never truly impacted the game.

However, three interceptions thrown by Alex Smith and a fumble by tight end Delanie Walker on a snow-free field certainly did. It gave Philadelphia a 17-point halftime advantage. From there, the Eagles protected their lead well enough to outlast the 49ers 27-13.

“Obviously, not our best performance,” head coach Mike Singletary said to open his postgame press conference. “We came out here to play a good football team, we knew all the things we had to do to get it done and we didn’t get it done.”

The 49ers (6-8) sixth-consecutive road loss combined with an Arizona Cardinals victory eliminated all chances for postseason play.

“It’s frustrating, you look back at everything we did and I’m willing to guarantee that nobody put the [same] time and effort that we did,” said linebacker Takeo Spikes, who will miss out on the playoffs for a 12th consecutive season. “To not go to the next level, the playoffs, that’s the most frustrating thing.”

The Eagles (10-4) first half lead turned out to be insurmountable. Smith rebounded in the second half, pulling the 49ers to within seven points by leading the 49ers to ten points in a four-minute span.

The comeback was also sparked by the 49ers second interception of the game. Cornerback Dre’ Bly made an amazing diving catch for his 42nd career interception. It set up the 49ers only touchdown of the game, a 12-yard pass play from Smith to wide receiver Josh Morgan.

Things were looking particularly brighter when Frank Gore rushed for his longest carry of the day on the 49ers ensuing possession. Gore’s 37-yard run up the middle was extended by a great downfield block by wide receiver Michael Crabtree.

But the 49ers could not score any points despite being inside of Eagles territory. The team’s propensity for failing to convert third down opportunities reared its ugly head at the worst time as the 49ers could not move the ball after Gore’s run. It was a common theme throughout the game as the visitors failed to convert on any of their 11 third down plays.

Failing to move the chains hurt the 49ers chances of extending their season.

“You get less opportunities, less chances at scoring,” Smith said of the 49ers woes on third down. “It’s something we have to get fixed. At this point it would be hard to say why, if there’s any one reason.”

After an Andy Lee punt pinned the Eagles down to their own 11-yard line, the Eagles quickly got back into 49ers territory when McNabb hooked up with DeSean Jackson on a 59-yard pass.

The duo also combined for Philadelphia’s first touchdown of the game on the game’s opening drive. Jackson caught six passes for 140 yards, including the 19-yard touchdown, largely because of the Eagles use of max protection schemes.

The same 49ers unit that came into the game with a sack in every game since Week 10, failed to notch one against McNabb. He finished the game 21-of-36 for 306 yards with the touchdown pass to Jackson, and two interceptions (one by Bly and the other by cornerback Shawntae Spencer in the end zone, late in the second quarter).

“They did a good job of protecting, max protecting,” said Spikes, who tied for the 49ers team lead with eight tackles against one of his former clubs. “They kept a lot of the backs in and that’s kind of the reason they slowed the pass rush up. We wanted to eliminate the big plays. We weren’t able to do that.”

The Eagles went on to add to their lead after Jackson’s big catch with a two-yard touchdown run by rookie running back LeSean McCoy. Philadelphia maintained its two-touchdown lead for the game’s final 11:32 on the clock.

With the win, Philadelphia clinched a playoff berth of their own with the club’s sixth-straight victory. But for the 49ers, it will be another season of what ifs.

“It’s tough knowing all the hard work we put in offseason, training camp and in the season,” Gore said. “When you look back at the games we lost we felt we should have won those games.”

Six of the team’s eight losses have been by less than seven points and six of them came away from the Bay Area.

“We did not step up when we had to. That’s the sign of a championship team. Right now we are not,” head coach Mike Singletary said.

The 49ers were defeated for the first time this season when Gore carried 16 times or more. His 16-carry, 107-yard performance wasn’t enough to keep the 49ers in the postseason mix. He became the first running back to surpass the 100-yard mark against Philadelphia’s defense in the last 20 regular season games.

“You can’t win games giving up the ball. I feel like we beat ourselves,” said Gore, who is averaging 5.4 yards per carry this season. “You can’t give up four turnovers and expect to win. I think that was the key of the game. We hurt ourselves.”

Smith agreed with Gore’s assessment.

“Disappointing, so many self-inflicted mistakes tonight. Not to take away what the Eagles did. It’s disappointing when you make mistakes especially in a game of this magnitude.”

Smith finished the game 20-of-37 for 177 yards, with one touchdown and three interceptions. It was Smith’s 16th touchdown pass of the season, tying his single-season career high. But the 49ers could only muster 261 total yards on 48 plays compared to 422 yards on 69 plays by Philadelphia.

Despite the initial struggles by Smith, Singletary backed his signal caller after the game.

“He’s shown me enough prior to tonight. He had a bad game. Great quarterbacks have bad games. No, I don’t have any questions about him.”

Similar words were uttered by tight end Vernon Davis, who caught three passes for 43 yards in the defeat, giving him the most single-season touchdowns (11) and yards (858) by a tight end in franchise history.

“I believe in Alex and what he brings to the team,” Davis said. “I would love to keep building chemistry with Alex. I look forward to that.”

A miscommunication between the 49ers most prolific touchdown combination caused Smith’s first interception. On the same play they’ve used to light up the opposition time and time again, Smith’s deep over-the-middle pass down the field was picked off by weak-side safety Quintin Mikell.

The Eagles could not add to their lead however. Head coach Andy Reid elected to go for a fourth-and-one inside of his own 30-yard line and was stuffed on a great play by Spikes. The 49ers appeared to regain the momentum, but turned the ball right back over when Walker was stripped trying to run after a catch. Philadelphia went on to score 13 unanswered points off the 49ers four first half turnovers.

Smith’s second interception was on another pass intended for Davis, when cornerback Asante Samuel slid off Morgan to intercept his eighth pass of the season. Smith’s third interception came on a dump-off pass to Gore that sailed over his running back’s head.

But Smith wasn’t pulled from the game, instead he led the 49ers to scoring drives on the team’s first two possessions of the second half. Morgan played a major role in both drives. He opened the third quarter with a 52-yard kickoff return which set up a 25-yard field goal by Joe Nedney, who earlier converted from 51 yards.

Later, Morgan scored hid 12-yard touchdown to pull the 49ers within a touchdown. With Davis garnering so much attention, Morgan was able to occupy the open space behind the tight end for his third touchdown of the season. Morgan had a game-high seven catches for 61 yards. He also had a career-high for all-purpose yards with 183.

Despite the disappointing outcome, Smith said he didn’t want the first half performance to damage the strides established in recent weeks by the 49ers offense.

“I feel like we’ve made some ground in the last few weeks,” he said. “As much as this hurts, we can’t let this affect where we want to go.”

The 49ers will look to finish the season at 8-8, a one-game improvement from the previous season, when they host the Detroit Lions on Dec. 27 and close out their season the following Sunday in St. Louis.

“We will prepare for the next game we have and play the best football we can possibly play, finish the season as strong as we possibly can. That’s it,” Singletary said.

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