Article Title: Too much to overcome.
The championship caliber Philadelphia Eagles under head coach Andy Reid came into Monster Park on a mission. To seek revenge and redemption from a surprising loss they suffered the week before against the New York Giants.
The San Francisco 49ers were prepared to meet that challenge head on as they were properly coached and counseled not to ride off from the momentum fresh off a victory against the St. Louis Rams in order to minimize the overly self-confidence.
Here they were ready to meet the greatest challenge of their season in facing the “goliath,” of the NFL in the Philadelphia Eagles and veteran superstar quarterback Donovan McNabb.
We started the game with a bum kick from Joe Nedney that careened for 56 yards and landed out of bounds at the Philadelphia 14 yard line. This of course granted Philadelphia great field possession at their 40-yard line to start.
It is the philosophy and doctrine of Mike Nolan according to his press conference on Monday following the game that should we be able to minimize our mistakes and concentrate and stay focused throughout the game, that our ability to hang tough with these guys and beat them is possible.
Sports beat writers make the assumption that the San Francisco 49ers were defeated 38-24 by the Philadelphia Eagles based upon the mere scope that they are a more veteran like team and were superior both ability and talent wise overall.
Mike Nolan indicated that had some truth to it, but not without making note that it was in our ability and our grasp to not make as many errors as we did in order for us to stay competitive and fight throughout the game with greater probability of winning.
Victory was a distinct possibility at the start of the game and even during it come the second half. But it quickly subsided with mistake after mistake accumulating to such a degree that overcoming them was just not feasible to one’s imagination.
After the bum kick and the Philadelphia Eagles walked up to the 40-yard line with Donovan McNabb at the controls, he performed a typical trick play called a flea flicker that connected with wide receiver Reggie Brown for a 50 yard gain that put them at the 49er 4-yard line where Brian Westbrook ran it in to score the first touchdown of many.
On a great return later in the first quarter and the Philadelphia Eagles starting at their 43-yard line under Donovan McNabb, the Eagles marched down the field once again almost unopposed to our 1-yard line where McNabb found L. Smith their tight end for a touchdown to be up 14-0.
The San Francisco 49er defense famous for being a contributing element against St. Louis just a week ago found themselves gasping for air against Brian Westbrook’s running game and Donovan McNabb’s passing game.
On the ground the defense surrendered 150 total yards with 117 of them from Brian Westbrook alone. Through the air the 49er secondary allowed 296 yards with Reggie Brown accounting for 106 of them with 50 yards just on one play alone.
The inability to stop the run set up the pass plays for veteran Donovan McNabb to take advantage of. The fact that we sacked him three times for a loss of 30 yards had little effect because of the explosive plays he still managed to assist in towards the end of the game.
The one lonely positive drive we had in the first half came with 14:01 left to play with Alex Smith driving from our own 21 yard line after a fumble recovery that Shawntae Spencer pounced on to start the drive off on the right foot.
We stalled though at the Philadelphia Eagles 30 yard line where we kicked our only points in the first half to make the score 14-3. But with 7:40 left to play and the Eagles on their 11-yard line Donovan McNabb again showed the football world again what it is that is so famous about him.
His ability to read defenses and make explosive plays by handing off to Brian Westbrook that saw him rumble 71 total yards down the sidelines and into the end zone unabated after a stiff arm to Mike Adams for the score to become 21-3 Eagles.
This was a pure indication that the defense was not getting the job done due to poor tackling and evidence was there that the ability for our defenders to wrap-up after the tackle is initiated was a catalyst throughout the game.
Of course the same can be said of our offensive game in which evidence was clear that our ability to protect Alex Smith was compromised time and time again as he took one vicious hit after another and was harassed and pressured a lot more often with a tenacious Philadelphia defense.
The offensive line was not able to recognize the blitz packages deployed by Philadelphia a lot of the times and struggled to defend a pocket from which Alex was able to feel comfortable within to throw from. Many times he was forced into scrambling and being pursued into simply throwing the ball away or taking a vicious blind-sided hit.
Alex Smith was still a testimony throughout the game in that he didn’t make any cardinal mistakes himself after completing 27 passes out of 46 attempts for 293 total yards and one touchdown.
Philadelphia went up 24-3 on a David Akers field goal after a successful drive from their 40-yard line with 5:44 left to play in the half. With just over a minute left to play in the half and getting stuffed on third and one from the Philadelphia 40-yard line, the 49ers chose to punt and pin the Eagles deep.
This turned out to be a controversial call on Mike Nolan’s part in that many sports critics and even fans questioned the timing of this call and the notion that we were trailing by 21 total points already. The gut feeling from most including my own was to go for it on fourth down and try and make a score happen.
But for Mike Nolan the pulse of the team as he reminds us were not for us to go for it at that time. He acknowledged that if it was his call and his alone he would’ve been inclined to go for it. But knowing that he had a team that was a second half team and that momentum was still in Philadelphia’s favor he chose to punt and go in at halftime to regroup his forces.
The second half would be full of surprises again for the 49ers as in the third quarter with good field position from our own 49-yard line Alex Smith guided the offense all the way down with several penalties to boot to the Philadelphia 1-yard line.
From there Frank Gore after two unsuccessful attempts already tried again to force the ball into the end zone but Eagle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter nailed the ball from Gore’s grasp with his helmet and the ensuing play was a fumble by Gore that was recovered by Philadelphia Eagle Mike Patterson and rumbled down the sidelines 98 yards for a touchdown to make it 31-3.
The utter destruction that we had just witnessed from this one play was so surreal. It was a play that cost us Vernon Davis for up to four weeks with a fractured bone in his right fibula. And Frank Gore left the game with deep bruises to his abdominal muscles.
The carnage lay everywhere and all of Monster Park were silent in the wake of what had just happened. It was probably our lowest moment inside the entire game as we stared up at a 28-point differential that would be impossible to overcome due to one costly error after another and our inability to convert on third downs.
So close were we to getting back into the game and yet we found ourselves yet again up against a wall of iniquity. Frank Gore had just fumbled again and had cost us a touchdown that would’ve provided us a stepping stool to gain momentum for a legitimate comeback.
Mike Nolan expressed concern as he chose to say it about Frank Gore’s costly fumbling antics near the goal line in scoring opportunities. He acknowledged the fact that he was considering bringing in someone else on third downs near the goal line in just these same sorts of circumstances after witnessing yet again another debacle.
The fact that Frank Gore is an exceptional football player and gives everything he has each and everyday is not even a question. He is a special athlete that the entire offensive line appreciates and plays harder for because they feed off his personality and his successes.
But his inability to secure the ball despite the circumstances near the goal line is reason to be concerned as Mike Nolan puts it so eloquently. The mistakes ravaged the team to a point where it was just too much to overcome again said by Mike Nolan at Monday’s press conference.
“It sucks to lose like this,” said 49ers safety Mike Adams.
“We just broke down mentally,” Adams continued. “We weren’t really polished, making a couple of mistakes here, a couple of missed tackles there, and that can happen. But when it happens against a great team like Philadelphia, they will capitalize off that.”
Remembering the Philadelphia Eagles of last year with Terrell Owens and blasting us in Week Two, 42-3 was a distinct revelation of what was happening to us right here at home. The Eagles again were in the drivers seat and making all the right moves yet again against a growing and improving team versus one that was recovering from a salary cap hangover.
With 5:51 in the third quarter though Alex Smith connected with Bryan Gilmore on a spectacular pass for 75 total yards. On third and one from the Philadelphia 1-yard line Michael Robinson in for the injured Frank Gore scored the touchdown to make it 31-10.
On yet another drive towards the end of the third quarter and evolved into the fourth Alex Smith guided the 49ers down to the Philadelphia 1-yard line again where Michael Robinson again worked his magic and scored a touchdown making it 31-17.
But soon after this Philadelphia quickly realized that they had to snuff the new momentum being built by our offense and answered on a drive of their own with a 60-yard pass play from Donovan McNabb to Matt Schobel wide open. This created another opportunity at the 49er eight yard line from where Brian Westbrook scored his third touchdown of the day to make it 38-17.
Penalties would rob our offensive strength again the rest of the way until late in the fourth quarter with 5:14 left to play the San Francisco 49ers began a long game ending drive that had Alex Smith connecting with tight end Eric Johnson in the end zone to make it 38-24 Eagles for the final.
Eric Johnson playing for the injured Vernon Davis had a great day with seven receptions for 87 yards and one touchdown. We fought a hard fight and we showed the football world again that we are a team that is fully capable of coming back and making a tight game possible.
But victories are what all of us want and the San Francisco 49ers were unfortunately on the short end of the stick yet again. We incurred eight penalties for 64 total yards in this game but had better time of possession 35:21 to Philadelphia’s 24:39.
It was our inability to defend the Eagle offense and stop the explosive plays that helped lead us to defeat. Turnovers proved costly as well and cemented the victory for the Philadelphia Eagles in their proven ability to take instant advantage of.
“We made far too many errors in the game to overcome, both offensively and defensively,” Coach Mike Nolan said. “Turning the ball over inside the 5 doesn’t help you any. There were far too many mental mistakes.”
That pretty much sums up what had happened. Bright spots are everywhere though as you watched this game. Remember what the atmosphere was like at Monster Park though with the noise level at such a degree that it was heard as if we were a playoff team building a foundation from which to work from.
Fans know what is happening right before their eyes. We know we have something special building here and that possibilities are endless now as we move in the right direction. We are a team with very encouraging signs and one that will hang tough with anybody. Kansas City will know that this coming Sunday.