Frank Gore couldn’t even bring himself to talk to reporters after last week’s loss in Arizona. The entire team seemed to be pulling in a million different directions, blowing assignments and committing penalties with abnormal frequency for a team that was known for being so solid for three years. After their first win at Levi’s Stadium, Gore was in a much better mood.
And in an amazing shirt, too. I’m not sure what those designs were, but they were as gold and shiny as they appear in this photo.
“Our backs were against the wall. It was a must win,” said Gore.
After only six carries for 10 yards in Arizona, Gore rushed 24 times for 119 yards against the Eagles. However, it was a wild, weird 55-yard touchdown pass to Gore that’ll be remembered as one of the top plays of the season for the 49ers.
It’s usually considered an ill-advised move as a right-handed quarterback to run to one’s left and throw off one’s back foot across the field. But there’s only one Colin Kaepernick.
“His arm’s strong enough,” said Gore, whose joint press conference with Kaepernick featured a moment that crystalized how the 49ers were able to beat the previously undefeated Eagles 26-21, despite allowing two touchdowns on special teams and a pick-six.
Reporters pressed Kaepernick on how he pulled off that schoolyard-type play.
“It was a great job by Frank,” Kaepernick said.
“Great job by Kap,” Gore replied a split-second later.
After giving up double-digit leads in consecutive weeks, the 49ers found themselves down by 11 in the second quarter after Darren Sproles’ 82-yard punt return for a touchdown. The Eagles couldn’t do anything offensively, but there was virtually no need early on. The 49ers made several crucial errors in the first half, including seven more penalties. They also lost Anthony Davis to a knee injury.
They kneeled for the last play of the half, and there were a few boos as they headed to the locker room. If the 49ers were down by eight without giving up a single point to Philly’s high-flying offense, how could they have a chance in the second half, where they’d experienced so much difficulty in their first three games?
By sticking with the run and playing the kind of defense they’ve been known for since they started winning at a high rate back in 2011, that’s how. This year’s defense was dealt several blows before the season, but they scored amazingly well in their toughest test of the season by not allowing the Eagles to score. Chip Kelly’s offense pushes the pace and puts up points, and while they did some of the former (not as much as usual since they barely had the ball), they were shut out completely in the second half. The 49ers only allowed 22 rushing yards all day and no points, even on a 15-play, 90-yard fourth quarter drive where the Eagles ran two plays from the 49ers’ 1-yard line.
The pass rush wasn’t fantastic, but the coverage was strong and the team avoided making the same mistakes they did in Weeks 2 and 3.
“We had to (play better). The second game against Chicago, we had some issues in the secondary. Last week against Arizona we had some run fit issues. Every week we’ve been trying to get better and I think we’re on our way to doing that,” said Eric Reid, who played through what he termed a hamstring contusion.
“I think in the Chicago game, our secondary issues – myself, I was trying to help some guys on certain things when I should’ve been somewhere else. I think I can speak for the d-line, the same against Arizona. They were trying to maybe help another guy instead of doing their job. When we all do our own job and trust that the guy next to us is going to do their job, then we play a lot better.”
The 49ers have a brand new strong safety and nickel corner, Perrish Cox is starting on the outside with Tramaine Brock out, Michael Wilhoite is in at middle linebacker in place of NaVorro Bowman, Ian Williams only played briefly in the early part of last season before getting injured, and Aldon Smith simply cannot be replaced by one player (even though Aaron Lynch is on the rise). Talent was a worry, but communication and trust were probably just as much at play throughout the first three games.
“We just had to play as a unit. Today was our best outing of the season playing as a unit, trusting the guys next to us. If we keep doing that, we’ll see some big things in the future,” Reid said.
Notes on “Sloppy coaching,” Kaepernick’s day, Vernon’s injury, loud Levi’s …
— There was a play where Colin Kaepernick was attempting to draw the Eagles offside on 4th-and-2 at the Eagles’ 43, and after failing to do so he called timeout. I’m pretty sure I heard someone yell loudly from the coaches’ suite next to the press box. Jim Harbaugh wasn’t happy either, but he blamed himself for not telling Kaepernick to take the delay of game penalty.
“I wanted to take the delay of game, but I didn’t tell him, I didn’t tell him that. I got to tell him that. So, that’s sloppy play on me. I should have alerted him if we didn’t get the offsides to take the delay of game. Sloppy, sloppy coaching on my part,” Harbaugh said.
— The accuracy Kaepernick displayed in Week 1 hasn’t quite been there in the games since. He did throw four outstanding passes: the touchdown to the front left corner of the end zone to Stevie Johnson, a pass to Vernon Davis across the middle that Davis couldn’t secure, and two fantastic sideline throws to Boldin and Crabtree on third down. Kaepernick also completely missed Crabtree on a slant that would’ve been an easy touchdown and threw behind Johnson on a pass that came close to getting picked off as a result. The interception he did throw was awful, and not just because Malcolm Jenkins took it to the house.
Kaepernick’s numbers look about right, based on what we saw: 17-for-30, two touchdowns and an interception.
— Also, Kaepernick’s designed run around left end and down the sideline to convert on 3rd-and-13 for 16 yards was outstanding, and he rushed for 58 yards on seven carries — his third straight game with over 50 yards on the ground. He’s still looking for his first rushing touchdown of the season, however.
— “It’s a great atmosphere. I feel like it’s louder than Candlestick, to be honest. The fans helped us being loud, rooting for us today,” said Kaepernick.
“It was noisy today right from the beginning. I thought our crowd did a great job and it feels good. It feels good we got a win for them,” said Harbaugh.
From about five minutes into the third quarter:
— Vernon Davis talked to reporters after the game and said he’d be fine (he left early in the third quarter with a back injury). Anthony Davis had his knee wrapped and walked out of the locker room with a crutch. He said he’s OK, but …
— It sounds like the 49ers knew exactly what Chip Kelly would run at the goal-line. That probably deserves its own post, along with how the 49ers prepared with an uptempo practice on Friday. Great, great week for Vic Fangio.
— “I’ll tell you what stands out to me, we got no penalties on defense,” said Fangio with a smile. Going into today’s game, the 49ers led the league in first downs allowed via penalty (17), and it wasn’t even close. Some other teams surely caught up in Week 4.
— Demarcus Dobbs tackled LeSean McCoy for a four-yard loss early in the fourth quarter. I asked Jim Tomsula about that play, and his answer might provide some clues as to why Tank Carradine keeps getting listed as inactive (something I wrote about before the game).
“Demarcus Dobbs is one of those guys, he’s played tight end. He plays every position across the defensive line,” Tomsula said.
“Tony Jerod-Eddie the same way. Joe Staley came out with the leg, and Tony Jerod-Eddie was blocking for the field goal attempt. Critical field goal attempt, there’s Tony in there, playing o-line, blocking ’em up. I said, ‘Tony, if I got a problem, I’m looking for you. You line up at nose, you line up at end, three technique, now you’re playing o-line. Those guys, it’s really a neat group of guys. They don’t blink.”
When injuries happen, you need guys who can get plugged in just about everywhere. Dobbs and Jerod-Eddie aren’t well-known or flashy. They wouldn’t start on many teams. But they’ve probably shown their value to the coaching staff in ways fans and media wouldn’t realize on several occasions.
— Antoine Bethea (who made his 100th start in a row) already looked like a great pickup when I wrote about him a couple weeks ago, and he keeps proving his worth. He had an interception, a forced fumble, seven tackles, and a nice pressure on Nick Foles on 3rd-and-goal from the 1-yard line.
Someone asked Bethea if they really thought they could keep the Eagles out of the end zone.
“Of course. That’s what you play defense for. That’s why you play the game. We don’t come out here on the field and say, ‘Okay, we’re going to let them score a touchdown.’ You come out here to keep the team out of the end zone and a doughnut on the scoreboard,” said Bethea.
After he was done at the podium, we all went to the 49ers’ locker room. I went over to Eric Reid’s locker, and Bethea came over and mentioned to Reid how someone asked if they were surprised they kept the Eagles from scoring, and both of them shared a good laugh. This defense doesn’t lack for confidence, nor should it.