The 49ers were never going to “suck for Luck.” And such a notion sounds absolutely insane now, with the 49ers sitting at 3-1. But it didn’t in the first half in Philly, after an Alex Smith fumble led to an Eagles touchdown and a 20-3 deficit for the Niners. That’s the kind of tenuous position Jim Harbaugh’s in, and he walked the tightrope as perfectly today as any first-year coach could in a near-miraculous comeback victory on the road against a team many picked to make the Super Bowl.
Down 23-3 after a David Akers blocked FG attempt was followed by a 33-yard FG for the Eagles, the 49ers played their best second half since … I have no idea. Eons ago. This was Alex Smith coming back on the road. This was the defense tightening up in the red zone and getting key takeaways. This was Frank Gore stiff-arming the naysayers (like yours truly) with 127 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries (against what has to be the worst run defense in the NFL, but still). This was the offensive line getting stronger as the game went on, paving the way for Gore to rush 5 times for 26 yards to run out the clock at the end — when everyone knew the 49ers were going to run.
More than anything, this was another positive boost to Jim Harbaugh’s momentum/aura/mojo/whatever, which shows no signs of abating. At this rate, anything he decides to do will escape questioning. Keeping the team in Youngstown, Ohio this past week will from this day forward be looked at as the industry standard in Ninerland when it comes to how to prepare for the second of two consecutive road games.
With some conservatie playcalling and extremely poor play from the offensive line early on in the season, many complained that the Niners look the same under Harbaugh as they did under Mike Singletary. But the offense is opening up little by little every week. And their defense, which was supposed to be so “fysical” under Singletary, is putting the hurt on guys with regularity under Harbaugh.
They’re stripping the ball, too. Justin Smith’s play to separate Jeremy Maclin from the rock, as well as Dashon Goldson’s recovery, was the kind of play you need when you’re trying to come back from a 20-point deficit with less than two quarters remaining … on the road.
Can you believe the 49ers won a road game? Against the Eagles? With Michael Vick healthy? Can you tell the beginning to this 49ers season has left me absolutely flabbergasted, unable to do anything besides ask question after question?
What part of the team wins championships, again?
— NaVorro Bowman, dare I say it, looked like the best linebacker on the team after watching the game live. Perhaps upon further review Patrick Willis will shine just as brightly, but Bowman — who made several key tackles and recovered Ronnie Brown’s extremely strange spike/fumble near the Niners’ goal line — has clearly arrived.
— Brown’s fumble took the attention away from a great play by Parys Haralson to stop Brown for a loss.
— Who’s missing Takeo Spikes? Not Vic Fangio.
— The Niners had a tough time staying with DeSean Jackson, and the secondary gave up 416 passing yards to Vick … but Carlos Rogers is still twice the cornerback Nate Clements ever was in San Francisco.
— Aldon Smith made the leap against the Eagles, with 1.5 sacks that counted. Best first round pick since Willis in ’07? While Mike Iupati’s had his moments, that has to be true. He was almost the polar opposite of Ahmad Brooks, who couldn’t wrap up Vick and kept jumping offsides.
— On the second of Brooks’ two offsides penalties in one series, Aldon sacked Vick to keep the free play from burning the Niners. The sack didn’t count, but Fangio and Jim Tomsula definitely noticed.
Two coaches on different trajectories
— Harbaugh’s going to practically be considered a superhero all week, and if the Raiders lose to the Patriots he’ll have his choice of every fair maiden in the land. Maybe that’s an overstatement, but he’s certainly in a better spot than…
— …Andy Reid, who’s in danger of losing his job after a home loss to the 49ers put his team at 1-3. He won’t get fired this week, but when Justin Smith stripped Maclin (there are so many Smiths on the 49ers that I have to write out their first names every time) he also conceivably stripped Reid of his chance to coach the Eagles in 2012.
Your weekly Fox rant
— Ron Pitts doesn’t provide much, but at least he isn’t extremely bitter like Jim Mora Jr., whose incompetence makes Pitts sound like Bill King in his prime.
— At the end of the first half, when Harbaugh was calling plays as time ran out but no timeouts to stop the clock, Mora Jr. went off on the coach, saying, “This might work in college (chuckle), but not at this level … another way to get your players hurt.”
— Mora Jr. either sounded as if Harbaugh gave him nothing during their chat earlier in the week or he’s very sensitive about coaches coming in from the college ranks and taking jobs away from NFL lifers (much like how Pete Carroll came back to the NFL from USC to replace Mora Jr. in Seattle). Or both.
— The production quality wasn’t as poor during today’s game as it was during the Niners/Bengals game, when it seemed like the broadcast was directed and produced by interns (no offense to interns, most of whom do a very good job in whatever coffee-fetching duties they’re asked to handle). But it’s not a good sign when I have to resort to rewinding the game myself to see what happened when Delanie Walker was called for a fumble on what was actually a dropped forward pass early in today’s game.
— And the Vick-love throughout the game by both announcers was insufferable. I felt like I was watching a Yankees game covered by Tim McCarver after Derek Jeter hits a ball to the right side to move the runner over. Please, Fox, we’re begging you. No more Pitts/Mora for the rest of the season.
Colin Kaepernick? Not anytime soon.
— In the biggest comeback victory of his career, Alex passed for 291 yards. His highest output since … 309 yards in a 27-24 loss to the Eagles last year.
— Going into today’s game, Alex was 22nd among qualified QBs in 20-yard pass plays (with 7) and tied for last with Kerry Collins, Luke McCown and Philip Rivers(?!) in 40-yard passes with 0.
— Today, Alex had 5 passes that went for 20 yards or more. 4 of those were in the second half, including his first 40-yard pass of the season, the 44-yard toss on the run to Kendall Hunter that Hunter almost broke for a long touchdown.
— There’s at least a slight chance the 49ers will have a 2-game lead in the NFC West over the Seahawks and Cardinals (who hold a 20-17 lead against the NY Giants as I’m writing this), and a 3-game lead against the 0-4 Rams. Better yet, the Niners are improving week-to-week as much as any team in the league, and look like a real team. The reactions on the sidelines, both after Justin Smith’s forced fumble and Gore’s runs to cement the game, weren’t fake at all. Who cares if the Eagles aren’t as good as people thought? The Niners hadn’t won a road game in the eastern time zone since 11/30/08 in Buffalo, and now they’ve won two in a row.
— Things are different all of the sudden, and the 49ers know it. That’s going to be one loud plane flight home from Philly this evening. The 49ers aren’t getting Andrew Luck, and Kaepernick won’t be doing anything other than handing off to Gore anytime soon … and that’s okay.