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49ers Rally, Beat Eagles 24-23

Posted Oct 2, 2011


PHILADELPHIA – Jim Harbaugh called it one of the best victories he’s ever been associated with, and based on track record alone, that’s certainly saying something.

The 49ers dug themselves out of a 23-3 deficit Sunday to finish off a 10-day excursion with another impressive road victory, a 24-23 comeback win for the ages over the Eagles. It also marked the first time since 2006 that the team was able to claim back-to-back road wins.

“Feeling pretty good about that one,” the 49ers coach said at his postgame press conference with a big smile on his face.

In the same way they rallied to beat Cincinnati a week earlier, the 49ers seized momentum in the second half to out-perform their opponents in a hostile environment on the road.

“They never flinched,” Harbaugh said of his team.

Alex Smith completed 21-of-33 passes for 291 yards with two touchdown passes. But it was Smith’s gritty third-quarter play that made a major difference.

“It’s huge for a quarterback,” said Harbaugh of Smith’s second-half performance. “You don’t have many 20-point comebacks as a quarterback. When you do, it’s a character-builder for them, for the team.”

Smith, who had 90 passing yards at halftime, engineered two long scoring drives in the third quarter, ones that put the 49ers back into the game and temporarily stunned the fans at Lincoln Financial Field.

“I don’t think there’s one thing to point to,” Smith said. “We played better football in the second half.”

The 49ers finished with 442 total yards, the most of any game this season. And it’s even more impressive considering the production in the first half: just three points on 153 yards of offense.

It all changed in the second half when the 49ers demonstrated confidence in their own play. An 80-yard drive in the third quarter by the 49ers offense was capped by 30-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Joshua Morgan. A 77-yard drive was finished off with a 9-yard touchdown pass to Vernon Davis.

Harbaugh later called it a “cold-blooded” game by Smith.

But it was that way for his entire team, which battled a talented Eagles squad for 60 minutes.

Trailing by six points with less than seven minutes in the game, the 49ers drove the ball down the field once more, going 77 yards on eight plays, finishing with a 12-yard touchdown run by Frank Gore.

The final point of the game happened to come from a familiar player to Philadelphia fans, as former Eagles kicker David Akers connected on the PAT to give the 49ers a one-point advantage.

It turned out to be a game-winner.

“That was big,” Akers said, who missed a kick early and had another attempt blocked. “Their field goal block team was bringing it hard. So, to hit the last extra point, that’s like hitting a 50-yard field goal. It still counts as one, but it puts you up.”

The ensuing possession saw the 49ers defense come up with its third takeaway of the game when defensive tackle Justin Smith ran nearly 20 yards down field and stripped Eagles wideout Jeremy Maclin from behind.

“That was big-time right there,” said safety Dashon Goldson, who recorded a game-high 10 tackles. “That was a game-changer. That was just pure hustle, and the kind of guy he is.”

Once the 49ers had the ball with 2:06 remaining, all that was needed were a couple first downs to ensure victory.

The 49ers hammered the ball with five straight runs and it was Gore, who didn’t start the game, but made sure to finish it. Gore picked up a pair of first downs on the game’s final drive, as Smith took a knee to run out the clock and seal the victory.

“It was a true testament to our will,” tackle Joe Staley said.

Gore carried the ball 15 times for a season-high 127 yards. Rookie Kendall Hunter, who started the game, added 38 rushing yards and 62 receiving yards.

Down 20-3 to start the second half, the 49ers put themselves in position for a field goal, but Akers’ third field goal attempt of the day was blocked by Eagles tackle King Dunlap which set up a 33-yard field goal from Akers’ replacement in Philadelphia, Alex Henery.

Henery struggled late in the game, missing two field goals that proved costly.

Smith showed off his improvisational ability during the 49ers second drive of the third quarter, when he bought time with his legs to dump off a pass to Hunter, who dashed down the field for a 44-yard gain. Two plays later, Smith fired a 30-yard touchdown pass to Morgan, who was untouched on his slant pattern.

On their next drive, Smith then threw a 38-yard deep sideline route to Michael Crabtree, which helped set up a 9-yard touchdown pass to Davis to make it a 23-17 game.

Crabtree led the 49ers with five catches for 68 yards, both season highs for the third-year player. Davis finished with four catches for 45 yards.

Smith wasn’t so sure it was his best game ever, but his teammates were certainly proud to see his strong performance.

“He pulled through,” Davis said. “Alex is a warrior and that’s all I have to say about that.”

While much of the news this week was centered on Michael Vick’s non-throwing hand, people forgot about Vick’s feet. The mobile Eagles quarterback rushed for 62 yards on five carries in the first half alone, and at the time, seemed to be threatening the 49ers streak of 25 games without allowing an individual 100-yard rusher.

In the second half, the 49ers defense toughened up, focused on their pursuit angles, and kept Vick in check. He didn’t throw any touchdowns in the second half, after tossing two in the first half.

“We had to get pressure on him, get him to move out of the pocket,” said cornerback Carlos Rogers, who intercepted Vick in the first half and blitzed often off the edge later in the game.

Rookie linebacker Aldon Smith saw more playing time on Sunday, taking down Vick for his first career sack in the second quarter. He later added another half-sack along with defensive tackle Ray McDonald.

The 49ers defense picked up two crucial turnovers in the first half which kept the game close enough for a comeback bid. Rogers recorded his second interception in as many weeks and the team later recovered a fumble by Eagles running back Ronnie Brown in the red zone.

As evidenced by the number of key plays made across the 49ers roster, many contributed to the win. Harbaugh could have talked at length about each player, but he said it best at the end of his press conference.

“You go up and down the roster on this one,” he said. “What a great team win.”