SAN FRANCISCO --The play that got all of the highlights, and one that carved out a 14-point lead for the Eagles early in the fourth quarter came when Brandon Graham pressured 49ers quarterback Alex Smith, rolling to his left, and Smith fumbled the football, just plain lost it, and Quintin Mikell was there to scoop up the ball and return it 52 yards to rip the heart right out of the winless 49ers.
Truth is, though, a series of big plays, huge moments and unsung heroes lifted a banged-up Eagles team to the 27-24 win, raising their record to 3-2. The Eagles entered the game minus quarterback Michael Vick and cornerback Asante Samuel, two key starters. Along the way, they lost defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley (elbow) and left offensive tackle Jason Peters (knee) for almost the entire game as well as wide receiver DeSean Jackson (knee) and defensive end Trent Cole (hamstring) for pieces.
And it didn't matter.
"Let's just go play. That is what this team is all about," said tight end Brent Celek. "That's what we did out there."
Quarterback Kevin Kolb had a strong outing running the offense, completing 21 of 31 passes for 253 yards (one touchdown, 103.3 passer rating) including a clutch touchdown pass to Brent Celek to cap a 10-play, 75-yard first-Eagles possession drive that knotted the score at 7-7 and robbed the 49ers of any momentum after San Francisco drove for a touchdown on its first drive. Kolb worked the pocket, got the ball down the field, eluded pressure (he had a nifty 19-yard run to convert a third-and-18 play) and kept his cool without his backside protector, Peters.
Sean McDermott's defense took the football away from San Francisco four times -- three times on fumble recoveries, with Mikell recording two -- and the "replacement" secondary played tough against Michael Crabtree, Josh Morgan and the San Francisco receiving game. Tight end Vernon Davis, one of the best in the league, caught 5 passes for 104 yards and a touchdown, burning the Eagles down the seam too many times.
It was an old-fashioned bloodbath -- in football terms, of course -- and the Eagles showed some real heart winning on the road, with all of the injuries, against the desperate 49ers. The Eagles were every bit as desperate. Oh, was that ever great to see.
Kolb, naturally, is the one everybody wants to talk about. He was better in the first half -- 12 of 14, 123 yards, one touchdown, although he had a fumble late in the second quarter -- than he was in the second half when the Eagles offense was blanked, save a David Akers 45-yard field goal to give the Eagles a 27-17 lead in the fourth quarter.
"I liked the way we fought all game, even when things weren't going our way," said head coach Andy Reid.
You want some of the unsung heroes? Here you go. Mikell recovered two fumbles, part of a 5-takeaway effort by the defense, and he scored his first NFL touchdown in the process. It was the third straight time the Eagles defense scored a touchdown against the 49ers here, and it was huge, absolutely huge.
On the play, Smith took the snap and rolled right. Graham broke through and closed quickly on Smith, who simply coughed up the ball as the Eagles swarmed. Mikell picked it up and went untouched into the end zone.
"It was right there, so my job was pretty easy," said Mikell. "I just made sure to pick it up and then go. I knew I had time. Everybody was there. It was a big play for us, and we needed every bit of it."
McCoy, of course, was brilliant. He had 92 rushing yards and 46 receiving yards and now has 583 yards from the line of scrimmage in 5 games. Impressive, indeed. The offensive line came off the ball nicely and cleared some space, and fullback Owen Schmitt was a wrecking ball in the running game with his physical blocking.
Todd Herremans earns some "unsung" points, too, with a strong interior game and a clutch recovery of a McCoy fumble that earned the Eagles a first down and led to Akers' field goal in the fourth quarter.
Cornerback Dimitri Patterson had a pretty interception down the field and helped contain the 49ers outside. Jeremy Maclin caught 6 passes for 95 yards, stretching the field. Chad Hall made a contribution, too, catching a 9-yard pass on third down to keep a drive going.
The defense was, in Reid's words "relentless." They allowed the first-drive touchdown and then another one after the Eagles took a 24-10 lead, but they limited Frank Gore to 52 rushing yards and took the ball away a season-high 5 times.
"We were hungry out there, flying to the ball," said Mikell. "It was a lot of fun. Too many mistakes, but we came up big when we had to."
San Francisco had a chance in the final minute, but the Eagles pressured Smith into a fifth takeaway, a Trevard Lindley interception, to ice the game after the 49ers had reached Eagles territory.
As for Kolb, Reid said he did a lot of right things.
"All in all he managed the game well, he was accurate, and there was no hesitation putting the ball in tight holes," said Reid, who quickly knocked down any chance for another quarterback "controversy" to erupt by announcing that Michael Vick would return as the starter when he is healthy. "He did it with conviction. I thought he just stepped up and played like we know Kevin can play."
It was far from a perfect game -- the kickoff coverage was awful again, and the Eagles failed to close out a game that should not have been that close -- but the Eagles captured a gutsy game. A huge win. An important NFC win on the road that keeps the Eagles tied with Washington and New York atop the NFC East, with Dallas at 1-3.
The backups stepped up and answered a lot of questions about the depth of the roster.
"I don't think this team cares," said Reid. "I don't think they care. They just go, 'OK, the next guy is in.' It's a tribute to (General Manager) Howie Roseman and the job he is doing with the personnel. These players, they just jump in and go. I don't think they care who is out there and who is not out there."
*NEWS, NOTES AND A LITTLE BIT OF THIS AND THAT FROM SAN FRANCISCO *
The Eagles won despite converting just 3 of 12 third downs. That doens't happen often. The Eagles, however, won the time of possession battle, controlling the ball for 30 minutes, 46 seconds. Very strange.
- Terrible job on kickoff coverage. Ted Ginn averaged 36.2 yards on 5 returns. What is happening? It appears the Eagles are simply losing containment. I watched the first kickoff and the Eagles just went out of their lanes and couldn't make plays, couldn't get off of blocks. Bobby April has a lot of work to do here.
- If I'm April, I'm making Jorrick Calvin the full-time kickoff return man. Why risk Ellis Hobbs? Calvin had a 38-yard return in his lone effort.
- Look for Lindley to develop rapidly. The Eagles want him in press coverage and he can do it. Long arms, strength, the ability to recovery -- Lindley has a chance here.
- Pretty good game for Graham, who had some pressure and really came off the ball well. Juqua Parker started at left end, played a little bit at right end and was outstanding. Darryl Tapp is making plays, too. The Eagles have a good thing going at defensive end.
- I thought Antonio Dixon was a plus at tackle. He replaced Bunkley and had a sack, with four tackles, including one for a loss. Good job there.
- Moise Fokou started and forced a fumble and was certainly very physical. He didn't play much in coverage against Davis -- the Eagles used a combination of Stewart Bradley and safeties -- but Fokou did what the Eagles wanted him to do.
- Both Graham and Nate Allen missed chances at quarterback sacks. They will learn. Both are going to be big-time players here.
- How serious are the injuries? I think they are a concern for the short term. Bunkley left early and didn't return. McCoy is going to be day to day until the bye week. Jackson just doesn't seem like Jackson, especially on punt returns. Peters is having an MRI, and while King Dunlap did OK -- he was left alone and was beaten a couple of times, but by and large did a pretty good job -- Peters is a Pro Bowl left tackle. A good Atlanta team visits on Sunday.
- How weird was it to see Brian Westbrook -- one carry, 6 yards -- wearing No. 20?
- Schmitt continues to be a factor. He plays hard, he blocks well and he has a little something after he catches the football. Schmitt is really good in this scheme.