A strange thing happened on the way to the 49ers’ third straight debilitating defeat. The defense remembered how to play all four quarters and the offense managed to dig out of a 21-10 hole and stumblebum its way to a precarious and absolutely vital win.
At first, the inventive 49ers looked to have discovered a new way to lose a game — via special teams blunders. A blocked punt TD, a punt return TD, and not to be outdone, the obligatory Colin Kaepernick stare-down his receiver pick six. 21 points and the Eagles offense had barely worked up a sweat.
Amazingly, the Eagles offense never did get to work up a sweat. Perhaps playing with just about all backups on the O-line had something to do with it, but Philadelphia could not run the ball at all and, though sacked only once (Ian Williams), QB Nick Foles was under pressure most of the afternoon.
49er CB Perrish Cox had an outstanding game in coverage. The Eagles targeted Jeremy Maclin 16 times, and completed just five against Cox’s coverage. Cox also had the game sealing interception. And one of Maclin’s receptions was a one-handed, stretched in the air, face plant beauty, that no DB could have covered. Probably explaining why Foles kept heaving the pigskin his way so often.
Another unsung 49er who stepped up was OLB Aaron Lynch. The 49er coaches finally caught up with our very own blognoscenti and benched Corey Lemonier late in the game. Lynch replaced him and made an immediate and noticeable impact, something Lemonier had failed to do all season.
The team also remembered that good things happen when Frank Gore is in the game plans. Frank gained 119 rushing yards (the Eagles had 22 total) and the game’s best wowser TD. I’ve seen WRs get ridiculously wide open deep occasionally, but Gore flared out right and Kaepernick scrambled left, and there was Gore all alone and nobody within twenty yards of him. How Kap threw that my-body-is-going-this-way-but-my-arm-is-throwing-the-other-way floater across the field to Gore is a medical mystery, but Gore took the gift and barreled down the sideline 55 yards for the TD.
The 49ers had yet another double digit penalty game, though none of the penalties did serious damage to the outcome. And Philadelphia had the same amount, making this a fairsy-squaresy ref effort, unlike the previous Chicago mob, game altering zebra beat down. Progress. Baby steps. In fact, if the special teams hadn’t been so generous, this game would have been a red and gold rout.
Instead, this game goes into the “gritty” category. A character builder. We’ve discovered two guys who can play defense (Cox and Lynch), remembered an old guy who can still play offense (Gore), and restored the notion that this is still a pretty damn good team. The Eagles were 3-0 coming in here and they left with a popped balloon as to whether they can play with the big boys.
One more observation. Watching the Sunday night game is a whole lot more enjoyable after the Niners have had a victorious afternoon. In fact, getting up Monday morning is much more pleasant, also, but that would be two observations, which would get me a writer’s penalty flag. I’m playing a clean column today, so forget the second observation. Even though it’s true.